Sunday, December 30, 2018

From the Bloc 11 Cafe: Interview with jo jo lazar: a woman who brings the burlesque to her performance and art.

From the Bloc 11 Cafe: Interview with jo jo lazar: a woman who brings the burlesque to her performance and art.

Interview by Doug Holder

Usually when someone comes to meet me in the back of the Bloc 11 Cafe in Somerville they find a white-bearded, bald guy hunched over a bagel or a newspaper—contemplating the meaning of meaning or whether its chicken or meatloaf for dinner. They are cautious in their approach—calculating in their movements. This was not the case with the multi-talented Somerviile artist/performer jojo lazar. She burst into my quiet cocoon like a jovial Ethel Merman as if, “everything is coming up roses” as the song goes. And indeed lazar is a performer and that is evident the first time you meet her.

Jojo Lazar was born in Washington, DC. She received a BA in three majors from Brandeis University and received her MFA in creative writing from Lesley University. She is a Boston-based performance artist/vaude-villain known as "the burlesque poetess" as well as the tenor ukulele player in the circus band, "Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys." She is the host of "salon gone wrong: evenings of poetry & delinquency," and has been creating and distributing a zine, “niblet” since 2004.

Doug Holder: Tell me how all roads eventually led you to Somerville?

jojo lazar: I became familiar with the Boston area's vibrant poetry scene when I went to summer camps at various college campuses in the area. On weekends we used to take trips to Harvard Square. So I got a good taste of the milieu. So around the tender age of 14 or 15 , I decided that I wanted to live up here. I found the area to be like a manageable New York City. My parents went to Harvard, and my sister went to Mt. Holyoke. so I was in familial grounds. When I came here to go to Brandeis I was into the burlesque scene. I was greatly influenced by Amanda Palmer. I never thought that I would still be into it in my 30s. In 2007 I attended the Somerville Arts Beat Festival. I said to myself, “ What a wonderful vibe.” My partner and I live near the Tufts campus. Our neighbors are chefs . It's great to be around people that are doing something creative. We haven't forgot our person-hood.

DH: What do you think about the gentrification of Somerville?

jjl: Well-- I see it slipping in—like Williamsburg in Brooklyn. I am not saying we are in a black hole yet-but of course it is closely watched on my radar.

DH: Do you make a living solely through your art?

jjl:Well I have taught at Lesley University and the ukulele the Passim School of Music School. But basically any money I make comes from my rock band.

DH: You were an assistant to the Pulitzer-winning poet Franz Wright at Brandeis. Tell me about that experience?

jjl: Yes—I knew Wright from before this from his readings, etc..., When I was a student, the head of the English Department hired Wright as a visiting creative writer. I was his informal TA. His workshop was very informal. I would help him run the workshop. Franz read from his father's work, whatever he had been reading, etc... He was scattered and confusing.

DH: Was he a good teacher?

jjl: It all depends what you were looking to get out of the class. He was a real genuine character with an imposing and beautiful mind. I was in love with him as an undergraduate. Many of the participants in the workshop had read his work and were in love. Basically, we came to see the Franz Wright show and hear his lectures.

DH: How was he on a one to one basis?

jl: When it came to interpersonal communications –who knows? He was never mean or negative. It was like asking a poet about your work rather than a professor. An average creative writing teacher would have comments about form, etc.... With him—who knows? Someone handed him a six page

paper that he free-wrote while having a drug experience of some kind. Wright commented to the student, “I don't know if a lot of this works, but I am so moved about what you are trying for here.” It was different.

I was in charge of keeping him focused. I was sort of the person who took care of the details—like emails, etc... so he could continue being the wild poet. When I had a one-on-one with him he sort of let me know he had no idea what to do with my work. He had read my poems in class, but I really couldn't tell what he thought of them. He said something like, “ So you write small narratives about your friends.”I was mortified... I thought he thought I was not profound. He wasn't negative or cruel; it was more like; it is, what it is. Mind you—this is over a decade ago—now I don't get dragged down by it.

DH:Tell us about the band you are a member of?

jjl: It is the Walter Sickert & The Army of Broken Toys. Walter Sickert is the founder of the band-- I met the band on MYSPACE. I was sort of an opening act for them at first. I did my burlesque comedian shtick. We toured around the region—visiting coffee shops, cabarets, etc... We are considered a Steampunk band . In Somerville we played at ART BEAT, Johnny D's, the Somerville Theatre, and we always have our “Slutcracker” at The Somerville Theatre. Now I am a musician with the band as well.

DH You describe yourself as a vaudevillian. I always think of the vaudeville my late father and grandfather told me about as a kid; that were often staged at Yiddish Theaters of the day.

jjl: You know I was interviewed right out of college by the Jewish Women's Archive. They were interested about my act as the “ Burlesque Jewess.” They asked me what I think of my heritage as a Jewish comedian. And I realized I was only knew a bare minimum. So I asked a friend of the family Lawrence Epstein, author of a “ Tortured Smile...,” a book about Jewish comedy. He told me many of the old vaudevillians never made the transition from Yiddish to English so they have been forgotten. I wanted to let you know my generation is interesting preserving things like vaudeville, but more importantly physical objects that are being lost to the digital world. We accept technology—but we make tangible things.

DH; Your poetry seems to consists of found things, text and images. How would you describe your poetry?

jjl: Well it is under the tag-- found poetry—experimental poetry. I find the way into my work one way or the other. I choose a parameter to write in, be it a prompt or whatever. Whatever works—I whittle it down to a syllabic structure. I have learned to trust my subconscious.

DH: Any parting shots?

jjl: I would ask for folks to go to 
 to support our band and other artists.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Editor Harte Weiner: She and her band of editors will make you cut yourself while shaving

Harte Weiner at the Bloc 11 Cafe in Somerville

Editor Harte Weiner: She and her band of editors will make you cut yourself while shaving

Article by Doug Holder

The renowned poet W. H. Auden said (and I paraphrase), “a good poem makes me cut myself while shaving.” And I guess the same principle applies to good editing. It cuts the fat off the bone of the manuscript, leaving it clean and making the readers hungry for more, more, more.

One morning, at my usual grazing grounds in the Bloc 11 Cafe in Somerville, I met Harte Weiner, founder of CambridgeEditors. We huddled around the fireplace and Weiner told me about the history of the said organization, she recalled “In 2003 I started CambridgeEditors. We have grown to about 35 editors and expanded from what remains our focus, creative writing, humanities and social sciences—to editing in other fields and professions. We are a little and literary company run out of my home in Cambridge, MA.”

Weiner, who is a member of Cambridgeport’s Temple Eitz Chayim where she met the poet Harris Gardner, loves the community there, and its encircling lyric-historic neighborhood. She has a very interesting literary background. Weiner told me in the 1980s she was an intern for the formidable literary magazine The Paris Review. Reviewing manuscripts for possible publication, she and others could work in the Upper East Side apartment of George Plumpton, the Review’s founder, just above the brick walled enclave of the office itself. Three responses slips were provided for return with their SASE’s. On the Review’s famous letter head stationery of iconoclastic American Eagle with pen wearing a French Revolutionary’s helmet of liberty, exciting new submissions received either, ‘Thank you, we’d like to see more;’ or the offer to publish.” Weiner remembers her elation at coming across real talent that she would pass along to Jonathan Galassi, the Review’s Poetry Editor at the time. Later Weiner would join the Masthead for some years as Contributing Editor.

During this period Weiner met such people as Tom Jenks of Narrative Magazine. Jenks, a fellow work-study intern whose Columbia School of the Arts degree took the fiction route. Pursuing a career in publishing, Jenks played a key role in the edit of The Garden of Eden, a Hemingway novel to emerge posthumously from Scriber’s.

Weiner also served as the Assistant Director at The Academy of American Poets. There she worked for a spell alongside the poet Henri Cole, also a Columbia School of the Arts classmate. Meeting ‘more or less every famous poet she’d ever wanted to meet,’ Weiner joined Henri in dining with these poets after Donnell Library readings.

The editor has had extensive teaching experience at Harvard University and Tufts University—right here in Somerville. At Tufts Weiner said, “I taught for five years along with David Rivard, Marie Howe, and a great poet we lost recently, Lucie Brock Broido.”

Weiner's first love is poetry. She has studied with likes of Derek Walcott, Seamus Heaney, Phillip Levine, and Robert Pinsky—to name a few.

Earlier in her literary career she published poetry in the Harvard Review, The Paris Review, and was the recipient of the prestigious Grolier Prize in 1981. She hopes to re-focus increasing each year on writing of her own, and is pulling together a selection called, Haunted Timmy. “It’s not what it sounds,” says Weiner, who first divulged the title around Halloween time.

Weiner told me that she started CambridgeEditors by posting flyers around Cambridge and was a habituĂ© of Gnomon Copy in Harvard Square. This is reminiscent of what Eve Bridberg, the founder of the writer’s organization Grub Street, did to jump start her fledgling enterprise. Weiner told me that her group has grown over the years—to a much more wide-reaching clientele.

I asked Weiner what it takes to be an editor at CambridgeEditors. She replied, “Well, they have to go through a series of tests. We seek people with advanced degrees—mostly PhD’s. With our creative writing it is more by invitation. Poet Charles Coe is one of our creative writing editors.”

The typical client according to Weiner is from Cambridge and Somerville or just across the river that separates the little and literary art scene from Boston’s antiquarian one (although she has a fair number of international clients), usually academics, graduate students, or writers who want to have their manuscripts, articles, poetry, novels edited. And if you view the CambridgeEditors website you will see a plethora of testimony from folks her organization has helped over the years. Is money a little tight? Weiner said she customizes her editing to fit people of lesser means. And if she is really enamored with a project—she might offer a discount as well.

And bye- the-way I had this prolific editor edit this article-- and I am a better writer for it!

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The Hate U Give written by Audrey Wells

The Hate U Give
written by Audrey Wells
directed by George Tillman Jr.
Based the YA novel of the same name
© 2017 by Angie Thomas
Harper Collins
ISBN 978-0-06-249853-3


The Hate U Give is an adaptation of Angie Thomas' best selling YA novel of the same name. The title is shortened from the source for an acronym, THUG LIFE, coined by the rapper Tupac, which stands for “The hate U give little infants fucks everyone.” The novel was begun as a response to the shootings of Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown, etc. (How dispiriting that such at sentence can end with “etc.”) I hope you will find The Hate U Give as challenging as I have and accept its challenge to seek answers for this question: “What is wrong with us that we need a movie like THUG?”

Even though the story is straightforward, the life of its heroine, Starr Carter, is complicated. She's the daughter of an ex-con and former gangbanger, Maverick Carter and a nurse, Lisa Carter. Her parents have enrolled Starr and her two siblings in Williamson, a suburban, virtually all white, prep school where they hope to educate their children out of Garden Heights. This hope means that everyday Starr must flip her personas back and forth between her black Garden Heights neighborhood and her white Williamson prep school.

The movie begins with a voiceover of Starr describing her discomfort with these necessary personality flips. However, this is not a sentimental movie “I remember mama” voiceover; it is an introduction to a tragic story told in the voice of an 18-year-old who is still processing the trauma of her 16th spring. As her narration proceeds it bleeds into a flashback of their father, Maverick, giving 10-year-old Starr and her 12-year-old brother "The Talk" (instructions on how people of color, must behave for the police during routine traffic stops) and we realize that this movie is not going to be a Hollywoody coming-of-age story. As surely as the gun in the first paragraph of a short story will be used before the last one, this flashback lets us know we will soon see a routine traffic stop fulfill the implied tragic promise of “The Talk.”

The movie led me to read the book because Starr has another flashback this one of a drive-by shooting of a childhood friend she witnessed when much younger. A stray bullet kills her playmate, part of the random violence of the neighborhood. This incident went by so rapidly in the movie that I missed the playmate’s name and became uncomfortable with that anonymity. I got the book from the library to find out and by the time I discovered the friend’s named was Natasha I was so involved in the new details of the novel that I had to finish it.

The Hate U Give in both media entertains as a tragedy of our culture, which is to say both claim our attention to inform us in a way that the nightly news cannot. When, during a routine traffic stop, a White cop shoots her unarmed childhood friend, Khalil while Starr watches and then holds him while he dies, The Hate U Give by association frees the deaths of Oscar Grant, Tamar Rice, Mike Brown, Sandra Bland and a myriad of others from the abstraction they have on the news and gives them an urgent presence. Khalil’s death and Starr’s response to it demand our empathy and provoke a catharsis as theater and other narrative arts have since Aristotle.

The two works complement each other. The young adult novel has five sections and 26 chapters covering the 13 weeks between the murder of Khalil and the grand jury decision not to indict the cop. Each chapter is a coherent scene so that the movie follows the book with minimal modification. What the book gives us that the movie cannot are details of the lives, the families and the community of Garden Heights. What the movie gives us that the book can't is the emotional immediacy of the shootings and deaths. So I recommend them both because they expose us to our cultural ignorance and to the consequences of that ignorance while encouraging us in our remediation.

Racism is a spectrum disorder; out on the right end of that spectrum, we have David Duke, Steve Bannon and Republican strategies to stay in power; out on the left we have biracial couples (the fastest growing demographic in the country) and a human desire to replace politics with a commitment to care for each other. The rest of us us are in the middle and, I hope, trying to grow toward the left. The Hate U Give provides us with an entertainment to nourish that growth. It educates us about a community of which, if we are honest white folks, we know little. This movie and book will help you stop wasting energy on any defensive need to declare, “I’m not racist!” It will free up that energy so you can use it to grow.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

From the Bloc 11 Cafe: Interview with jo jo lazar--poet/writer/burlesque performer, musician

Podcast: Interview with jo jo lazar  ( Click on to listen....)

jojo Lazar, “the burlesque poetess” is a Somer-vaudevillian multimedia visual and performance artist. She plays ukulele and flute in ‘The Army of Toys’ band, and teaches uke, creative writing, and zine-making. You can find blackout poetry & more collages - @poetessS on social media

Podcast: Interview with jo jo lazar

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Let Us Now Speak of Extinction Michael C. Keith

Let Us Now Speak of Extinction
Michael C. Keith
Copyright © 2018 Michael C. Keith
MadHat Press
Asheville, NC
231 pages, $21.95, softbound

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Flash fiction, micro fiction, prose poetry. Whatever you choose to call it, Michael. C. Keith’s Let Us Now Speak of Extinction is 231 pages of pure enjoyment. His stories, many of which are just a few lines and others less than one page, encompass many scenarios a number of them with ironically humorous endings and titles that he has obviously spent time creating.

In “Adjusting One’s Priorities” Keith keys in on the self-absorbed viewer of a tragedy: "Frank saw a small plane flip and fall to to earth. He had five minutes left of his lunch hour and still had not eaten his dessert. What should I do? he wondered."

Keith also has a jaundiced eye when writing about old age and its optimism versus its fears. While everyone is doomed to extinction, in “You Bet Your Life” it is not about the Groucho Marx television show of the 1950s but rather a future which Keith sees as a possibility. The story is a cousin to a story which was later made into a movie called “The Four Feathers.”

"Six old friends got together and decided to wager on whom among them would live the longest. Each would put five dollars into the hat each week, and the last person standing would win. Since they all were only in their early 70s, they felt the pot could end up being quite substantial, and that’s what spurred them on -- that and the fact that each septuagenarian felt he was in better shape than the others. The first member of the group passed away after five years, and over the next dozen years, everyone else in the pool had expired, except one.Unfortunately, he could neither stand up nor recall anything about the bet."

As one can see just by these two stories, Keith casts a sarcastic eye on people, his view being that no one is really on the positive side of life’s ledger. In the first story Frank could be anywhere from his twenties to his fifties and not only more interested in his food but sees little interest in reporting a tragedy and possibly saving lives.

The second story paints a bleak look at what all humans face – a future that ends with little hope as death is final outcome for all living things. That theme figures perfectly into Keith’s title about extinctions.

Speaking of extinction, in “Cotillion of the Fittest” Keith sees the end of humanity as follows:It wasn’t three days after the last human died that the cockroaches and rats held a dance. Although he does not tell us why all of humanity has passed into extinction, we learn that two of our most feared creatures on earth, cockroaches and rats have survived and are holding a celebratory dance to acknowledge their inheritance of the planet, or perhaps just simple happiness as not being killed anymore by the top animal kingdom.

Another of Keith’s likes is food, often the sweet. In “Profound Discourse At A Dunkin” he explains the importance of a sweet something to a discussion of human existence:

“When contemplating the nature of human existence, it’s very easy to reach the conclusion that the whole thing is a cruel absurdity,” said Gill.'Oh, jees, fellas, Gill is getting all existential on us. What do you expect us to do with that information?' replied Doug, winking at fellow members of the Somerville Old Farts Breakfast Club. 'Well,' answered Gill, 'You could add meaning to my life by buying me another Vanilla Frosted with Sprinkles.'"

Despite what often seems like a negative spin, Michael Keith’s Let Us Now Speak of Extinction is comedic take on like, death and everything in between. It is a book one fights with one’s self not to put down because what is on the next page might (an often is) more entertaining than the page just finished. Get yourself a copy and enjoy more than 200 pages of pure entertainment.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

The Sunday Poet: Kuoya Dut

Kuoya Dut

I am Kuoya Dut. A junior finance major at Endicott college. I was born in South Sudan and raised and educated in Kenya. I am passionate about writing and fashion design. My hobbies include running, hiking, soccer and playing pool. I have hosted a radio show in the past too.


After it pours, after the ever-dry soil

is turned into a mould of mud the

mighty waters of the seasonal river

can be seen snaking down the dry

banks of the laga children playing

in the silt of the riverbeds pulling

their soccer posts out as they beam

in excitement, running around

the waters, frothy at the mouth stealthily

creeping in like a mugger, soon, the current

is a buzzing mass of strong waters, carrying

big branches and boulders underneath.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Spotlight on Gloria Mindock, Outgoing Poet Laureate of Somerville

Outgoing Somerville Poet Laureate Gloria Mindock

Spotlight on Gloria Mindock, Outgoing Poet Laureate of Somerville

ARTICLE BY   Karen Friedland

Union Square resident Gloria Mindock has long had a mission of bringing poetry to the people.  

This month, she’s wrapping up a successful two-year stint as Somerville’s second Poet Laureate, having brought poetry and music to elders at the Little Sisters of the Poor, puppet shows to children at two Somerville libraries, and a bi-monthly poetry round table, poetry readings and how-to workshops at the Arts at the Armory on Highland Avenue, as well as outdoor poetry readings at Union and Davis SquaresHer last event, on December 14, was a tribute to Claribel Alegria and other Salvadoran Poets, reflecting the sizable Salvadoran community in Somerville. To top it all offshe gave away 500 books of poetry all over town.

Explains Gloria, “the mission of a Poet Laureate is primarily to reach out to the community—to get poetry known…and read!” She adds: “Giving books away was so satisfying—people were very happy with the books they took. This is a great way for poetry to reach the community, because many people won’t go out and buy them.” Gloria was especially pleased to give away a book of poems by a Russian poet to one of the nuns at the Little Sisters of the Poor, who had admired a poem of his Gloria had read out loud. She also loved the questions the children asked after the puppet shows. Her only regret: not bringing a mike and amp to the outdoor readings, so poets could be heard over the sound of traffic.

 A long-time poet and theater impresario, Gloria is the founding editor, in 2005, of Cervena Barva Press, which publishes cutting-edge poetry, fiction, and plays from writers around the world. The press provides one to two readings each month, and Gloria co-facilitates the “First and Last Word Poetry Series,” which was founded by poet Harris Gardner, on the third Tuesday of the month. Gloria also founded Read America Read, which leaves free books throughout the country to get America reading again. Learn more about the press and Gloria’s related projects, at

Widely published in the US and abroad, Gloria’s Pushcart Prize-nominated poetry has been translated and published into Romanian, Serbian, Spanish, Estonian, and French. Recent publications include I Wish Francisco Franco Would Love Me (Nixes Mate Books) and Whiteness of Bone (Glass Lyre Press). In 2014, Gloria was awarded the Ibbetson Street Press Lifetime Achievement Award and in 2016, she was the recipient of the Allen Ginsberg Award for community service by the Newton Writing and Publishing Center.

Since 2013, Gloria has used her own funds to rent a cozy, brick-walled space in the basement of the Arts at the Armory, at 191 Highland Avenue. The space acts as a venue for poetry readings and workshops and houses a bookstore called The Lost Bookshelf, which sells new and used books. It was in this space that Gloria provided many of the poetry readings, workshops and round tables during her two years as Poet Laureate.
Energized by her experiences as Poet Laureate, Gloria is excited to stay involved with the poetry community via her space at the Armory. In addition to her Cervena Barva Press readings, she will also provide a once-a-month poetry round table—a forum for local poets to read their work
aloud—as well as writing exercises and workshops like the “Get that Pen Out” and “How to Read Your Poetry Aloud—workshops she provided as Poet Laureate.

Recently retired from 30+ years as a social worker, Gloria is thrilled to be expanding her offerings at the Armory in 2019 to include an Open Mic Night on the third Friday of every month and “Monologue Mondays” on the first Monday of the month, in addition to continuing the bi-monthly round table. She’s also started an exciting, new “Pastry with Poets” workshop, recently debuting with a workshop on the villanelle delivered by area poet and professor Richard Hoffman. Learn more about upcoming readings, workshops and events at
Gloria recommends that the new Poet Laureate—who will be named shortly by the Somerville Arts Council—“have fun” in the position. She says that, during her tenure, “I met a lot of wonderful people who are now part of my life—we plan to keep working together to enrich the community.” Gloria believes strongly in keeping poetry readings and workshops affordable, and will be charging $10 for intensive workshops. “You should not have to break the bank to take a workshop,” she explains. Area poets and writers are also strongly encouraged to contact Gloria about presenting workshops.