Saturday, July 08, 2017

A New Path: Selected Poetry of Joseph Cohen

A New Path
Selected Poetry of
Joseph Cohen
Ibbetson St. Press
Somerville, MA
Copyright © 2017 by Joseph A. Cohen
82 pages, softbound, $12

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

There are three things you should know about Joe Cohen before you start reading his second book of poetry A New Path, published by one of the leading small press publishers, Ibbetson St. Press.

First, Joe is 100 years-old!  Second he served in the U.S. armed forces during WWII, and third he is a Jew who was born in Syria before all Jews were forced out.

As Susan Astor writes in her introduction to this volume of poetry, “Joe fights evil and pain, loss and grief, in the way he knows best: by involving himself with beauty, both by admiring it and creating it.”

Thus we get to his poetry.  Leah Giles worked with Joe for a year and a half to bring his work to fruition. She writes, “The book is a wonderful mix of poems … from childhood to retirement.”

Joe Cohen writes in an easily accessible style.  There is little that is fancy or ornate .  He is direct and nostalgic,  as evidenced in: “We” --

I am of medium height, you are short.
I bellow, you speak softly.
I awake with gusto, you reel from sleep.
I stride with no restraint, you step gracefully.
My family is large, yours is tiny.
I barbecue pompously with a flourish,
you cook masterfully and
season food like a French chef.
You remember birthdays, I mutter, “again?”
You prefer a fastidious house, I could live in chaos. But we both know
that opposites sometimes attract.

Unlike many of the poets of World War II who related the horrors of war like Lucien Stryk-- ( He could not help having nightmares about Hiroshima) or poets who saw the German death camps, Cohen saw love. In  his poems “Larry The Lover” or “Love Story,” both about American soldiers falling in love during the European campaign

In the title poem Cohen acknowledges that his youth is gone and how aging can be a new path to creativity and exploration.

A New Path

Loss of youth
need not be so tragic.
The pace of life’s pleasures can slow down
gracefully and gently.

The tempo need not be as lively as it was
to continue to yield satisfaction, joy, fulfillment.
Love of music, art, fine literature,
the visual creations does not
demand muscles or speed.

Though slashing forehand drives in tennis
are a dream from the past,
other advantages warm the color of today.
New wisdom drawn from living longer
enriches the ability to deal with people
and problems of aging.

The music of Brahms is just as fulfilling.
Mona Lisa’s mysterious expression
remains as intriguing as it did
                                                        when we were young.                                     

To grow anew with freshness is
to respond to new challenges.
It is time to awaken latent talents
and move to enrich the quality of life.

How many letters to write, notes to read,
books to dig into?
How many hobbies to develop
that have waited for years?

Though we are no longer vigorous and powerful,
it is time to stop the moaning,
to cease the whining, to go forth
to drink in the pleasures of creativity and exploration.

Joe Cohen has led a full life, but if you ask him he will tell you-- it is not  finished.  The man has been published in a number of publications; he has taught photography in New York colleges and the BOLLI program at Brandeis University. 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.

Joe Cohen’s books A New Path is indeed worth reading and there are not many poets who have published their poetry at the age of 100, thus making this an even more worthwhile book to own and read more than once.
Zvi A. Sesling
Reviewer for Boston Small Press and Poetry Scene
Author, Fire Tongue and Love Poems From Hell
Editor, Muddy River Poetry Review

The Sunday Poet: Lo Galluccio

Poet Lo Galluccio

Lo Galluccio is a writer and vocalist who served as Poet Populist of Cambridge from 2013-2015.  Her first poetry chapbook, “Hot Rain” was released by Ibbetson St. Press and another, “Terrible Baubles” came out on Propaganda Press. Some of the poems were set to music by pianist Eric Zinman with whom she made a CD of the same title in 2012.  Her prose-poem memoir, “Sarasota VII” was published by Cervena Barva Press in 2010.  Her first Knitting Factory CD, “Being Visited” was hailed as “by turns mysterious, seductive, surreal and spacey” by NYC DJ Vin Scelsa.  “Spell on You” – her follow up record – inhabits a totally different world of bluesy rock, spirituals and jazz standards.  Lo is currently a student at Stonecoast’s low res MFA program in creative writing.  Her writer’s site is

Why I write

I write to underscore parts so my life has music, to add a layer of intelligent analysis to it, to objectify it—I write to overthrow negligence and to reinstate caring.  I write to create waves of language, like an ocean on which my life-boat bobs.  I write to exercise my given gleaming and edgy particulars.  I write instead of watching a horror movie, because of the horror movie, because it’s scary to be a human being surrounded by crimes.  Because memories of the past can be enshrined by an alphabet of signs.  I write to know myself better.  I write to exaggerate and refine.  I write to create a cook book of life recipes, to look backwards, to look forwards.  I write to be at ease; I write to labor at something.  I was taught to write and so I write.  I write to get better at writing.  I write to unload crates in my mind.  I write to condense experience and to flag what happens, what has happened.  I write to better my chances.  I write to clean my lens, to sharpen the focus, to snapshot happenings, to add color and time to things.  I write, sometimes, hysterically about what I want and what I can’t have.  I write sometimes calmly as if I were at the prow of the boat and the horizon lay smoothly ahead.  I write against treachery.  I write for love and against it.  I write so I will be rescued by a hero.  I write as if I were the heroine of a tragic romance.  I write to commemorate the villain.  I write so others might see how hip and afraid and intense I am.  I write to reach my fellow humans.  I write in beams. I write in knots.  I write over some shit and beneath it.   I write to fly.  I write to dream better.  I write to caress life.  To be loved, I write.

Lo  Galluccio

Why I Write – prompted by the Creative Non-fiction book

Friday, July 07, 2017

33 IBBETSON STREET: The Orange House Down the Block

City of Poets Anthology--produced at 33 Ibbetson St. ( Don DiVecchio, Richard Wilhem and Doug Holder editors) 1998 (Click on pic to enlarge)


33 IBBETSON STREET: The Orange House Down the Block

By Doug Holder

Back in 1994 I decided to give up my small, rent-controlled flat in the Republic of Cambridge, to get married. My late wife Dianne said, " I am convinced you loved me, because you gave up a rent-controlled apartment for me." As it turns out rent control was soon to be abolished, and there was a mass exodus to Somerville--where -- if you can believe it--rents were cheap. But moving to Ibbetson Street and Somerville proved to be the best move we made. At 33 Ibbetson Street--we had a huge apartment, with a parlor, dining room, large kitchen, a bedroom and a study. It was there the idea of   the Ibbetson Street Press was birthed. We started this press in 1998--and threw a party where many people from the community and small literary presses gathered. We got coverage in the Boston Globe and other local papers. That unassuming, orange house--will always have special meaning to me... the heated editorial meetings, the documentary that was filmed there, the late night sessions getting the books and magazines ready for print--the City of Poets anthology we put out --with a diverse group of poets like the late Jack Powers, Don DiVecchio, Aldo Tambellini, Linda Conte, Richard Cambridge, Askia Toure, Harris Gardner and many others. I wrote my first book introduction, and helped mediate the many differences that these talented folks had with the anthology and each other. In 2001 we moved to School Street--just outside Union Square. These were the most productive years--we produced books, and we are releasing our 50th issue of the Ibbetson Street magazine. We couldn't have done it without our great landlords --who are supporters of the arts--and have given us a break on the rent--so we could still afford to live in Somerville. During this time I was able to help get the Poet Laureate position up and running in Somerville, I have an arts column in The Somerville Times, and for years have had a TV show, Poet to Poet/Writer to Writer on Somerville Community Access TV. I think this all happened because we moved to Somerville--where all these opportunities are available. On the rare occasion that I pass that unassuming, orange house on Ibbetson Street, I can picture that group of Ibbetson poets sitting on the front steps--gazing out into the street--probably contemplating another poem...

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Cambridge Poet Joseph A. Cohen turns 100

Poet Joseph A. Cohen with Legion of Honor document and medal

Joseph A. Cohen turns 100 

William Falcetano

You’ll find him most Saturday mornings seated in the same cafĂ© with a cheese danish and a black coffee, chatting with his fellow poets, writers, and artists – he is Joe Cohen and he is about to turn one-hundred years old tomorrow, July 13th. The fact that a ninety-nine-year-old gentleman is a “man about town” is in itself noteworthy; but Joseph A. Cohen doesn’t only attend the Bagels and Bards informal weekly meet-up; he also gives public readings of his poetry in such literary settings as the Periodicals Room of the Boston Public Library (for National Poetry Month), the Armory in Somerville, and the Somerville and Cambridge Public Libraries. Joe’s poetry readings are often accompanied by his violinist daughter Beth Bahia Cohen, who teaches world violin traditions at Berklee College of Music and Tufts University. 
Joe’s parents were Arabic-speaking Jews from Aleppo, Syria. They emigrated to America in 1911. Six years later, in 1917, Joe was born in the Lower East Side of New York City. The Cohens moved to the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, where they raised a large family of 8 children. Joe’s childhood in the 1920s was straight out of The Little Rascals – he and his pals searched for empty lots for a place to play stick-ball; they went to Ebbets Field to see the Brooklyn Dodgers play baseball (his cousin Sam Nahem pitched for the Dodgers in 1938). But by the time Joe went to New Utrecht High School the Great Depression had descended on America and people were hurting; but Joe got straight into the table linen business after graduation. 
As a young man, and a handsome fellow to boot (see wedding picture), Joe was naturally looking for love; and he found it when he met Sonia, who was from a Yiddish-speaking Jewish family from Ukraine. From these two regions of the world, now so mired in misery, they seemed destined to find happiness together in America. To the question: “How’d you met your wife?” Joe shrugged his shoulders and said, “well, we were both lefties and we went to meetings”. He brought Sonia home and said to his disapproving mother (it was a mixed marriage after all): “if you like her I’ll marry her; and if you don’t like her I’ll marry her.” 
Then, in December, 1941, America was suddenly at war and Joe joined the U.S. Army. He fought Hitler’s legions as part of an anti-aircraft gun battery in North Africa, Italy (Anzio), France, and Belgium. Joe Cohen went up against Hermann Goering’s dreaded Luftwaffe and shot Messerschmitts and Junkers out of the European skies; but you could never get him to admit it – “hundreds of shots went up but nobody knew whose shot downed the plane”. That’s how real heroes talk; never taking personal credit for their amazing deeds. On Bastille Day last year, Joe was awarded the Legion of Honor from the government of France for his services during the war – that’s no small distinction when a whole country says “Thank You!” 
The 1950s were good to the Cohens; Joe’s table linen business boomed and he employed 200 workers selling his wares all over the world. Joe and Sonia had three children; he lived in Great Neck N.Y. for 50 years before he moved to Cambridge at the age of 94. Despite his business success Joe never forgot his political convictions; so he pitched in to help the singer-activist Harry Belafonte fund and organize the legal defense for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Then he fought to desegregate another famous American place – Levittown, N.Y., where the Cohens lived for a time on their journey from Brooklyn to Great Neck
In the meantime, Joe became a student and later a teacher of photography; he studied with highly acclaimed photographers at The New School in NYC, Parsons School of Design, CW Post; he also taught the art of photography for over 40 years at colleges in the area. His photos were exhibited widely in New York. Joe also took time out to study poetry; and he became a published poet with two fine chapbooks – one book, aptly named A Full Life, shows a photograph of Joe reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace in a foxhole. A second book by the title A New Path, was published in June. Joe’s poems often evoke scenes of Middle Eastern hospitality, food, and music. They reveal a man who pays attention to details and who savors the good things of life – family, friends, the taste of Syrian cuisine, the color of green in springtime. 
Joe has been a beloved “Bagel Bard” ever since he arrived in town; and he has graced our table with portraits of each of us, as well as with his poetry readings, his keen observations, and his wry wit. I can report that Joe Cohen still has a strong hand shake, he takes a glass of scotch and soda every night with dinner; his eyes twinkle and his wit is keen. Now don’t be fooled, old age isn’t a walk in the park; it’s not easy being a hundred. After all, most of the people he grew up with are long gone; as Joe complained in a turn of phrase worthy of Yogi Bera: “everybody I know is dead”.
In Joe Cohen, we find a man who was a soldier and a poet, a successful businessman and a civil rights activist, a Jew who speaks Arabic, a beloved husband, an adored father of three and grandfather of five, and a photographer whose long and clear view of life has earned him the right to the title “A Full Life”. But to come out at a hundred with another title – “A New Path” – what can be new at 100? Stay tuned to Joe Cohen and you’ll find out. No wonder why the City of Cambridge has declared July 13th Joseph A. Cohen Day. 

To order Joe's book go to  or 

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Somerville Voice Teacher Celia Slattery Gives Her Students a Voice

Celia Slattery at the Bloc 11 Cafe

Somerville Voice Teacher Celia Slattery Gives Her Students a Voice

By Doug Holder

Originally from California, voice teacher and performer Celia Slattery has lived in worked in Davis Square for the past 17 years. She described the community as vibrant, and a good place for someone in her profession to be located. She has performed in many local spots, such as: the now defunct Johnny D's, the Davis Square Theater, Ryles in Inman Square, Club Passim in Harvard Square, etc...

Slattery told me she sings both jazz and folk/rock music. She counts Nora Jones, Joni Mitchell, and Leonard Cohen as singers she admires. Of the late Leonard Cohen she states: “ His lyrics are thoughtful and not predictable. His music is soulful and sensual at the same time.”

Slattery attended U/Mass Amherst and has a theater background. She was a member of the experimental troupe “ Reality Theater.” There she dabbled in improvisation.

She likes the music of what she describes as the “ First Ladies of Jazz.”-- classics like Bessie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald and others. This affinity for these singers has led her to create a one-woman show that explores their vocal art .

Slattery makes a living by teaching voice. She helps students get their voices in shape, as well as teaching them vocal techniques. She said, “ I physically train singers. I show them how to exercise their muscles that make sound. I teach them to sing at their peak efficiency.”

I asked her about older singers—people whose voices who tend to crack, and can not reach certain ranges. I wondered about people 80 and over. She told me, “ Well, we have Tony Bennett—and he still has it. Like any athlete you have to exercise your muscles—older folks can do do that and still sing reasonably well. I teach my older students to use different vocal folds. I teach them to work with their rib cage, stomach muscles, and tongue. I do this with all students and it helps most people.”

I asked Slattery about the backgrounds her students bring to the table. She said her students are an eclectic group. They are people who sing on tour cruises, high school singers, rock singers, nightclub crooners, etc.... Slattery reflected, “ I have even helped people regain their vocal ability after they suffered with cysts, polyps, nodes, etc...” Although her prices are not cheap...they are competitive. They reflect the quality of work Slattery feels she provides.

*** To find out more info about Celia Slattery go to:

Monday, July 03, 2017

INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL KEITH: Author of 'Slow Transit' with Susan Tepper

with Susan Tepper

 Michael C. Keith is the author of several dozen books, both fiction and non-fiction. His latest in the former category are Slow Transit and Perspective Drifts Like a Log on a River. He recently retired from the faculty of Boston College and is currently at work on a new story collection.

Susan Tepper: Your new story collection ‘Slow Transit’ is a visual delight from the moment the book cover is viewed. It reminded me of the last scene in the film Remains of the Day. So incredibly evocative. As are the stories you’ve written for this collection. You open with a knock-out flash/prologue titled ‘The Start to Mabel’s Day.’ Was there an incident that stirred up this story for you?

Michael Keith: I do recall an elderly woman who lived alone in the rooming house I occupied with my father. She was a sweet lady, who would often speak to me as I played out on the building’s steps and sidewalk. I didn’t get to really know her, because my father and I were back on the road (re: The Next Better Place) after a few weeks. I always felt a little sorry for her because she never seemed to have any visitors. She’s remained in my memories all these decades later. I think it’s a tough fate to be left alone when you’re old.

ST: How interesting that she stayed in your memory and you had the chance to immortalize her in this fiction. Your title story ‘Slow Transit’ is funny and surreal but not necessarily unbelievable. A man planting his garden comes across a hard object while digging, only to discover it’s a door. This story is quite short yet looms large.

MK: It’s another piece of bizarre-ism that makes a connection to actual experience. I love to twist the so-called hard and fast, warp it up. There’s a few things going on with this one. You have the guy tending his garden in a suburb of London. Bucolic enough. Then he encounters a mystery of sorts.

ST: I’ll say!

MK: Something in the ground that keeps him digging even though he may be wise to leave it as is. Humans are a curious lot, often to their detriment. Finally, a portal appears, and rather than take a few steps back to contemplate the ramifications of pulling on the door handle, he just goes ahead, and then out pops a gentleman from another century complaining about slow mass transit (a very now thing as well). What changes, really? I like to play with absurdities . . . relatable absurdities. Every day is loaded with them.

ST: Another flash I loved is ‘The Substance of Nothing’ in which two characters discuss the after-life. This is another story that seems to back up your book’s hook. How would you define the gestalt of this collection?

MK: I had to go back and reread this story to answer your question. After nearly 600 short pieces of fiction in eight years, it’s hard to recall everything. I guess I’m saying there are just some things that can’t be answered . . . logically. So when the child claims that “nothingness” is something, it’s hard to argue that. What the girl is stating (naively, perhaps . . . perhaps not?) is really axiomatic. We cannot not exist in some form. Does the idea give us hope for immortality? That’s another question that might be gleaned from the piece?

ST: An exploration of the metaphysical plane.

MK: Yes. And can we take solace in the prospect of a continuing presence, even if not cognizant of that presence? I’m pretty much obsessed with the subject of dying and death . . . perhaps to my emotional detriment. But it does fuel much of my imagination.

ST: It also fascinates me in a macabre way and does seem to be the driving underbelly of much of your fiction. Another story‘Hair Today’ continues on the theme of life and aging and the afterlife. Even the afterlife of hair! You write: “I look in the mirror and see a somewhat older guy with a decent head of hair… And then a friend calls me baldy.”

Do you think as we age we obsess over relatively minor things like our hair, rather than be happy we are still alive and moving pretty damned well? Do you think about the approaching dark tunnel? You are tremendously prolific as a writer. Does the idea of the tunnel keep you going as a writer? It does for me. I worry I will never live long enough to complete all the writing projects in my mind.

MK: I think the aging process is a design glitch by God or nature––whoever or whatever put us here. It’s a nasty thing (maybe a bad joke), no matter how you look at it. I see little upside of physical and mental deterioration. It makes me mad (and sad) . . . and that is often evident in what I write. I lash out in words at what I find reprehensible. Death is reprehensible. I’ve not seen any defense of it that makes a gram of sense to me. I will not go gentle into the last night––to paraphrase Dylan Thomas badly. I’d like to mellow out on all of this, but I find it hard. So I’ll assault the letters on my keyboard to stave off my dread and lodge my complaint about an impossible situation.

ST: I hear you. Loud and clear. This is a terrific collection. These same stories, from the pen of a cockeyed optimist, wouldn’t ring with the same intense clarity.

 ****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.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

The Sunday Poet: Joseph A. Cohen

( Click on pic to enlarge)

Joseph A. Cohen is 100 years old this month and he is still writing. His latest book of poetry is " The New Path" ( Ibbetson Street Press).  Nina MacLauglin of the Boston Globe wrote of Cohen's new book, " " The clarity and lyricism of " A New Path" belies Cohen's advanced age.


I remember when I first set sail.
It was raining and the icy wind
tore through my clothes.
Bleak was the mood, a frigid
gray cast hung over the scene.

Ships that sail in the dawn
moved out of port while
anti-aircraft balloons swayed in the wind.
Escort planes circled protectively while
a grim fleet of destroyers tended
to this convoy of fifty troop ships.

Wonderment and fear of the unknown
gave way to “hitting the rail” as we gave
back our breakfasts. We ploughed
through rough waters in the open seas
as I sat back to suffer a journey
of eighteen seasick days to Casablanca,
thus beginning my three-year stint overseas
fighting the “good war” - World War II.