Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Sunday Poet: Mark Stevick

Poet Mark Stevick



Mark Stevick is a professor of Creative Writing at Gordon College in Wenham, MA.


There are flowers   looking something like

red   it is dusk   trunks of pine like

black rivulets down a faint pane   one

planet   these flowers   petunias?

leaning over rails   begonias?   what

has happened?   who has been taken?

they are looking   looking   like cartoon

crowds   are they dahlias?   still the pines

blacken   there is nothing they can do

they are keeping it up   look they are

wringing their hands   they are impatiens.

                 This Birch

Civility rises as this birch

lifts its face, and stretches.

There is remembrance in these limbs,

of wind, and rain, and mute kisses.

All the gestures of the branches say

the gifts I bring must be refused.

Let this tree be dressed as light allows;

let it be white amid dark boughs.

Friday, March 30, 2018


 My old pal Jack Holland ---the founder of the Somerville - based band Dutch Tulips is performing with other groups at the Once Lounge in Somerville--April 12. This is a benefit for gun safety put on by the organization  FOR EVERYTOWN--

 State Rep. Mike Connolly, who serves parts of Somerville and Cambridge in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, will provide a brief update on local efforts to make our state's gun laws even stronger, including last year's adoption of legislation to ban bump stocks, and this year's push to adopt legislation that would allow for Extreme Risk Protective Orders, which would allow family members and law enforcement to petition to temporarily remove guns from a dangerous individual.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Interview with writer, poet Richard Cambridge by Lo Galluccio

Richard Cambridge

Interview with writer Richard Cambridge by Lo Galluccio

Richard Cambridge was born in Suffern, NY, and grew up in Rivervale, New Jersey. He attended Northeastern University in 1967 and dropped out during the National Student Strike of May, 1970. He attended the Stonecoast creative writing program at the University of Southern Maine, in 2009, and graduated in 2011 with an MFA in Fiction. Pulsa, his poetry collection, was published in 2004 by Hanover Press. He’s been living in Cambridge since 1973. In 1992 Richard was one of four spoken word artists on the Boston team to win the National Slam tournament. I had the chance to interview Richard prior to his featuring as one of the Stonecoast alumni reading at the Lilypad in Cambridge on Saturday, April 7th at 7:30 pm.

Q: You’re someone who writes both from personal experience and through the funnel of the imagination. Can you talk about your early work in poetry and how it relates to the personal or to the imaginative? Speak specifically about your book, Pulsa.

A: Pulsa came out of a real series of events in May of 1970 and they were so profound I couldn’t even express what had happened. Finally, 23 years later I found the vehicle of what had happened to me using the story of the boy who God asked to give up his talent. I typed it out in the basement of the Harvard Science Center one day, February 24th.  I’ve always tried to live out my imagination and to make it real. I spend most of the time in my imagination and then express it through art, writing, poetry.

Q: How did you get into doing a theatre piece like The Cigarette Papers? What prompted you to want to stage that story of getting off nicotine?

A:  It was a constellation of getting to the point of understanding I would not be 
able to give it up, and being part of the Omega Theatre Arts, a nine month  intensive program that asked you to take your deepest fear and make art out of it.  For me that was giving up cigarettes, my friend.  In a very real way I wrote my way out of that addiction.  It really quickly became theatre, doing parts of the work in open mics.  In the beginning I was keeping a journal and then a friend said, “You’ve got something there…” The characters in the piece came from moments of going through withdrawal, when I would write down what was going on within me, and they came out as these demonic forces, like the Marlboro Man, the Dullards, and the Cookie Monster.

The Cigarette Papers and Pulsa were happening at the same time. When I went on tour I was doing the Book of Psalms from Pulsa and excerpts from The Cigarette Papers. I had a feature at The Green Door in Asheville, and Thomas Crowe, the publisher of New Native Press came out to see it. He saw a connection between the story of the boy being asked to give up his talent, and the addiction, and offered to produce The Cigarette Papers on his spoken word label, Fern Hill Records. His partner, the composer Nan Watkins, scored it. We’ve been close friends ever since.

Q:  You’ve written at least one novel, Ride, and are working on another one.  When you decided to go to Stonecoast were you sure you wanted to concentrate on fiction rather than poetry?  How did that experience shape Ride? And please tell us a bit about what that book’s about.

A:  It was clearly the main reason I went to Stonecoast – to gain access to the tools novelists use.  I’d known I’d written it with the talents of a poet.  I’d written a main draft and revised it once and my main reason for going to Stonecoast was to revise it again. It began as a memoir, as an actual experience, but pretty early on I started to re-invent it and change scenes and events and it was clearly more fun to do that.

Ride is about a journey from Cambridge to Asheville, NC for a poetry gig. My car had broken down and I felt that I could stick out my thumb (hitchhike) to get there. The structure is the rides who picked me up and the tension was about whether I was going to get there in time for the reading . It started on May 4th, 1994 when my poet-friend Danny Solis, dropped me off at the Mass Pike exit at Newbury Street . It was 1000 miles to Ashville . I had to get there by Friday night, two days away . Practically no one was picking up hitchhikers in the 90s and I kept getting rides going in the wrong direction, that took me further west than south . What happened at Stonecoast was I Iearned how to stitch in my life as an activist with my wife Sally who died in the late 90s. Part of the artifice was putting in her death as if it had just happened . Richard Hoffman, my first mentor at Stonecoast, suggested that I had to either leave her out of the manuscript or really write about her and the relationship, embrace it . Studying with friends and mentors challenged me so much to do these things. My dissertation was the revision of the novel, which is bound in the Stonecoast archives.

Q:  Can you speak a little more about your Stonecoast experience?  How did it challenge you and encourage you in your craft?  Would you recommend that writers get an MFA?

A:  I would definitely recommend it . It certainly helped me to produce a polished novel . From Richard Hoffman I learned how to revise my memoir into a novel . From Michael Kimball I learned to write “close to the spine,” and from Scott Wolven, how to polish every page. Scott would examine a page and there would be all these circles and he would say “There are 18 ‘the’s’ and you’ve got to get rid of 12 of them.”  I had not thought that deeply about it. So it went to a whole other level of craft that I’d not even imagined.

Q:  You’ve hosted The Poets’ Theatre for many years. What is that series about for you?  What has that experience been like?  What are some of the highlights?

A:  I’ve hosted the Poets’ Theatre since 1995. Tim Mason, who was booking Club Passim, offered me a monthly series which ran until 2010. Since then, it’s been in the CafĂ© at Somerville’s Arts at the Armory, the third Friday of every month. Poets’ Theatre evolved out of the open mic scene in the early 90s, which included not just poets, but musicians, storytellers, stand-up comics, dancers—many artistic disciplines. As I began to grow as a poet I realized I needed more than my own talent to flesh out a story I wanted to tell. Being friends with many people on the scene I knew just who I wanted to ask to participate. One production, inspired by Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, examined the Columbus Quincentenial through an Indigenous perspective. It was called Where the Red Road Runs. Another show, Embargo!, called into question the decades-long U.S. blockade of Cuba. Presente!, brought to light imprisoned activists from the liberation struggles in the Sixties and Seventies.

Being a member of the Boston Championship Slam team was an amazing experience. I’d like to give a shout-out to my poetry-mates Ray McNiece, Danny Solis, and Benson Wheeler.

I read the first draft of my novel, Ride, from July 5th 2006 to November 5th 2008 in four-minute segments at the Cantab Lounge open mic . It was like a weekly serial and it had kind of following. I tried to keep about 30 pages ahead of the game and it reached the point where not doing it would have been catastrophic to my ego. I couldn’t show up and say that’s all I wrote, and leave the ride hanging somewhere in the Poconos. In some ways, it was the impetus to finish the story. The final night was a 30-minute feature — finally arriving in Asheville.  And that was a big highlight. Another highlight was our troupe, Singing with the Enemy, being invited by Cuban diplomats to perform Embargo! at the first U.S. — Cuba Friendship Conference in Havana in 1998.

 Q:  Talk a little about your new novel, the one you’ll be reading from on April 7th at the Lilypad. What’s the source for the work? How is it different from your other works? Is it a political novel? 

A:  It centers around the year 1970 and the tumultuous events that happened around the National Student Strike and the Black Panther’s Revolutionary People’s Constitutional Convention. It was another time in U.S. history when things could have gone one way or another. None of us were aware at the time that there was a secret program in the F.B.I. — Cointelpro — to neutralize leaders of radical movements like the Black Panthers, AIM (American Indian Movement), and the Young Lords Party. There were so many events — a national postal strike, labor uprisings, antiwar protests, it was hard to believe a revolution didn’t happen.

The novel is an imaginative re-telling of that year, as if the events, the movements had been allowed to take their natural course, instead of how they were repressed by the secret programs targeting them.

The F.B.I. was afraid the Panthers free breakfast program was raising a new generation of revolutionaries….a generation of Martin Luther Kings. If you look at the Panthers’ Ten-Point Program for the community and allow those things to come to pass and flourish, where you’d wind up is a country like Wakanda in the Black Panther film, where people were allowed to develop their talents and prosper. They were creating a future that was cut off. The novel is an attempt to create a space where that alternate future came to pass. It’s called 1970. I’m about a third of the way into it. 

Q:  What’s the best thing about being a writer? I know you also play the harp and do other things (graffiti), but what is it about writing that holds your attention, that makes you want to continue to develop?

A:  It’s like being a creator with a little “c.” Someone once asked Dorothy Parker if she believed in God and she said “Yes, when I’m writing.” It’s one of the most beautiful experiences I can imagine….something higher than just language…story…not just poetry and essays. It’s almost as if you’re writing your way into your experience and living your existence that way.  I’ve been a writer since I was fourteen or fifteen with teachers that sparked that love for poetry. I was bitten by it. It was such an amazing feeling — reading and writing poetry — I couldn’t imagine wanting to do anything else. I owe everything in my life to my teachers. They’re the stepping stones that allowed me to cross that wild river of creativity.

Lo Galluccio will be hosting a reading with Richard Cambridge along with two other Stonecoast Alumni writers, Michelle Soucy Martel and Tom MacDonald, on April 7th at the Lilypad in Cambridge at 7:30 pm. The event is free and open to the public.