Friday, May 04, 2018

The Hastings Room Reading Series Welcomes Joan Houlihan 7PM May 9, 2018

Joan Houlihan

The Hastings Room Reading Series Welcomes Joan Houlihan on May the 9th,  2018,

this coming Wednesday, 7pm at Christ Church ,O Garden Street--just outside of Harvard Square...


Our spring reader this year is Joan Houlihan. Joan’s previously released poetry, two narrative sequences, were forged in the deep past, out of the bubble of present times, in pre-historic hunter-gatherer days. The second book of the sequence, Ay, was published early in 2014. A motivation for the narrative’s setting in long-forgotten times stems from Houlihan’s concern for permanent human nature. Its central tragedy identifies with the story of Cain and Abel, and though of such a primitive region of our psyche, to this day it continues to be a major source of parental woe and daily news, not to mention Congressional gridlock.


Along with The Us and Ay, Joan Houlihan is the author of The Mending Worm, winner of the 2005 Green Rose Prize in poetry, and Handheld Executions, poems and essays 2006. She founded the Concord Poetry Center, and is the founder and director of the Colrain Poetry Manuscript Conferences. Joan serves on the faculty of Lesley University’s Low-Residency

MFA program.


The Us was named a 2009 must-read by the Massachusetts Center for the Book.


As a Freshman in college, I learned in an Introduction to American Literature course that one distinctive characteristic of our stories and poetry is “primitivism.” I only remembered that label recently as I pondered the unique language that Houlihan smithied for her narrative book-length poems, and which is carried forth in her new book, Shadow-feast, released by Four Way Books. Houlihan’s language is unusual in its conscious preference away from Latinate or Scholarly English—mirroring the prehistoric or a-temporal  subject of those first two books. Oddly she achieves this American primitivism through language by harkening back to a use of English in poetry before America was even founded, in the alliterative diction of Old English poetry where the formal omission of articles (“a” and “the”) draws weight and blood back into nouns. It is a language keen in elemental perception of basic phenomena, seasons, plants, animals and birds, night and day, sea and land, stripped almost entirely of concept and abstraction. We see these signatures in the new book, Shadow-feast:


p. 3: SLEPT OUT to sea and sailing in a wave

            uncertain what was in the hold   then comes from years: a comb…


p. 6:                 She sat him up to sip / a bowl of broth


p.14: pulley-roped palliatives


p. 31 Lean me on you, I am rid of wish


p. 32 I am mute, but thought-loud.

I have recently noted in an article that the new book is presented in three dramatic parts, two monologues, Hers, His, and a sort of post script, Theirs. It’s a work of expressions from imagination—biographically referential howsoever. This organization and representation lend remove to the poems, allow us to read them as we might view or read a play. It also sets the book in perspective as literary genre, with Rilke’s wonderful poem on assisting the dying “Washing the Corpse,” or Faulkner’s streaming dramatic novel As I Lay Dying.


It is interesting to note that the Personae of Shadow-feast are possessive pronouns: Hers, His, Theirs. This links Shadow-feast with Houlihan’s two previous book-length poems, Ay (“I”) and The Us, with their titles evocative of nominal pronouns.


As is the case with every Hastings Room reading, this coming Wednesday’s will be the best one yet. Come join us.



The Hastings Room Reading series was founded in 2014 by Steven Brown and Michael Steffen.

It holds place thanks to the space allowed to us by First Church Congregationalist and is free, accepting donations which go to the church. We want to acknowledge the generosity of help, over these past four years, given by Irene Koronos, Dan Wuenschel, Elizabeth Oehlkers Wright, Kevin Cutrer, and many others, including our readers.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

HERE'S TO YOU MR. ROBINSON: Jeff Robinson And His Trio Wed Poetry To Jazz

( Jeff Robinson Far Left)

***An article I wrote some years ago that appeared in the all-poetry edition of Spare Change News.

Jeff Robinson, founder of THE JEFF ROBINSON TRIO, holds court every Sunday Night at the LIZARD LOUNGE in Cambridge,Ma.. In the basement of the Cambridge Common restaurant , he performs a sort of wedding ceremony. This is a musical and lyrical ceremony in which poetry and jazz are paired and they make a perfect match. With Robinson on sax, Blake Newman on bass, and Jerome Deupree on drums, Robinson infuses the poetry of such local poets as Marc Goldfinger,Carla Schwartz, and Joyce Cuhna, with the Be and the Bop of Jazz. Robinson's expansive talents are not limited to one medium or simply the local scene. He has performed nationally with such poets as Amiri Baraka, and Quincy Troupe. He has written, acted in and produced his own play, LIVE BIRD, which dealt with the mercurial and brilliant life of the jazz saxophonist Charlie "Bird" Parker. I talked with Mr. Robinson, amidst the wafting aroma of Turkish coffee, at the Cafe Algiers in the heart of Harvard Square.

DH: Jeff, could you tell me a little about your musical background and how you founded the JEFF ROBINSON TRIO?

JR: I started playing music when I was in the sixth grade. My first musical experience was with a singing group. Three friends of mine ( in my neighborhood in St. Louis) formed a group called the STARLIGHT THREE. We played Motown stuff...Marvin Gaye, the Jackson 5, etc... Our first performance was at a local talent show. I played the guitar. When I went to high school the jazz band didn't need a guitarist, so I played a flute, ( my mother encouraged me to do this.) Eventually I graduated to the saxophone and other instruments. I studied at the BERKLEE COLLEGE OF MUSIC in Boston, after high school.

The JEFF ROBINSON TRIO has been around seven years,and five years at the LIZARD LOUNGE. The LIZARD LOUNGE is our home. When we got there, it was a turning point. We finally had a home. They are very supportive,and very good for us. I would like to think it has been good for both of us. We have hit our stride there.

DH: What gave you the idea to wed poetry and jazz?

JR: I actually have been performing with words and poets for years, way before I formed the Trio. I'm actually an actor,...for nearly twenty years now. The first part I ever got was in an Amiri Baraka play (in Boston), THE DUTCHMAN. After my first audition, the director asked me to come back with my saxophone. I came in, did another audition, and he wrote a part for me as a street musician. The play is set in a subway around 1960. There were references to Bessie Smith and Charlie Parker in it. I recited a poem in THE DUTCHMAN, that had references to these figures. I played music in the background( during certain segments), while actors recited their lines. I added something to Baraka's words. This was the first time I have performed music with poetry.. I ended up writing a play based on this poem I read.. It was called, ALLEY CAT. The drummer in that play was Dwight Hart. He was the original drummer of the Trio.. It sort of bridged from there. So- I acted and performed in a lot of plays with music and seemed like a natural progression. It wasn't a formal idea.

DH: Are music and poetry a good fit?

JR: Music and poetry have been around for a long time. We aren't doing anything that hasn't been done already. Song is poetry; poetry is song. You can write a whole series of books on it; but simply put songs are words, that are repeated in a certain way. I try not to make it complex. People are not doing it exactly the way we are doing it. It's carrying on a certain tradition, as far as the spoken-word genre is concerned.

DH: Can you talk about some of the local poets you have worked with?

JR: We've been at the MIDDLE EAST for awhile and the PLOUGH and STARS. It's hard to talk about local poets, because we are bound to leave someone out. We've been at the LIZARD LOUNGE for five years now. Every Sunday we average 20 poets on the open mic. So you do the math, that's a lot of poets. That gets into the thousands...several thousand. We've backed up poets, time and time again. Locally it would be unfair to list poets, because we have to cut too many. There area couple of poets we are working with right now, like: IYEOKA OKOAWO. She's from Nigeria and lives in Roxbury. We are working on a CD with her. We are also working with Askia Toure and Reggie Gibson. I'd like to start a label, but that is probably more work than I can handle right now. I might bring the idea to the table with these poets.

DH: You wrote and acted in a play, LIVE BIRD: AN INTIMATE PORTRAIT OF CHARLIE PARKER, that has been performed around-the-country.. How did this idea bear fruit? Why did you choose Parker as opposed to Lester Young, or Coltrane to use a couple of examples?

JR: I've played the part of Martin Luther King in a play entitled: THE MEETING. It concerned Malcolm X and MLK. I have been doing it for 14 years. I was impressed with the writing, and the reception of the play. Every Black History Month we go on tour. I was thinking I would like to have a vehicle like that. I wanted to write a play about musicians...about what I know. Charlie Parker popped up because he was an extremely influential musician, as well as extremely dramatic. His life lent itself to me, a lot easier than some other people I was considering. Charlie Parker was larger than life, in the sense that his intellect really merits his music. He was very charismatic, well-read, and outgoing. He was a person who really needed a voice. I don't think he really got his due, in the sense that Miles Davis has gotten. Parker died very young (34) and was really just getting started.

DH: You recorded a CD with local poet and acting editor of SPARE CHANGE, Marc Goldfinger, entitled: GETTING FIXED. This concerned the poet's heroin addiction. Did the music compliment the poetry? Did the poetry compliment the music? Can the use of drugs enhance one's work?

JF: Everybody has to deal with that on a personal level. I have my vices, that I try I try not to get in the way of my work. I try to make sure my vices don't effect my performances, and I think I succeeded with that. As far as the CD is concerned, Marc can speak better on the heroin part of it. I think the music and the poetry compliment each other very well. The CD was a child of my Charlie Parker play. A lot of people wanted to see more heroin in the play. Some very prominent New York producers, were interested in the play, but wanted to see Bird on the "other side" They wanted the gore. That wasn't what I wanted to write. I wasn't going to rewrite it. Parker's widow, Doris Parker, loved the play and told me I had captured her husband. So I wasn't about to change the script for a producer who wanted more heroin and gore. Therefore, I looked for other avenues for that heroin theme, and the CD helped. My friends turned me on to Marc Goldfinger. We were playing at the PLOUGH and STARS. In comes Marc, he recited a poem about heroin. After he finished we stopped playing. We talked to Marc and we started our relationship then.

DH: You have worked with such prominent Black poets as Quincy Troupe and Amiri Baraka. What appeals to you about these mens' work? What was the result of your work with them?

JR: With Bakara... we performed with him in the South End ( Boston) at Afrocentrics. They invited him to perform and we were the house band. We only performed a couple of things with him. This was sort of full circle for me. He was, sort of, the very first poet I performed with in the Play, THE DUTCHMAN. I was playing behind his words. So it was a great feeling, because he was and still is a great inspiration.

With Troupe...I had read his book on Miles.(Miles Davis) Miles basically recited the book to Quincy. The book just grabbed me. ( Miles: The Autobiography). That was my first introduction to Quincy Troupe, the writer. And Miles loved that book. I got introduced to Quincy through a friend. A friend had recommended him and myself to perform at the LANGSTON HUGHES CENTENNIAL last Feb. in Joplin, Mo. This was the first time the Trio performed with Quincy. We brought him to Cambridge for the Cambridge Poetry Festival. He turned out to be a good friend.

DH: From reading your credits I see that you performed at a benefit for the Beat writer, William Burroughs.

JR: We did that event for the Boston Phoenix's "Best Of" issue. They had a poetry stage, and asked us to perform. It was a celebration of William Burroughs. We got up and did our own thing.

DH Do you have a special affinity for the Beat Generation writers?

JR Yes, of course. Kerouac...I dived into a lot of other people who he turned me on to. I am a third or fourth generation Kerouac fan--ON THE ROAD--that's how I got into it. I said: "This is good!" " Who is this guy?" I've been into poetry and music for ages. I read up on Kerouac. he improvised a lot. His writing is free-flowing...improvised at the moment.

DH: You just completed the third annual CAMBRIDGE POETRY FESTIVAL sponsored by the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. How did you start all this?

JR: The TRIO had performed with performance artist/poet Patricia Smith. She encouraged us with regards to poetry/music. Deena Anderson ( who works at the Cambridge Center) asked me if the Trio would like to do more stuff at the Center. I said it would be really nice to have a poetry festival. Ironically, there isn't a big poetry festival in the Boston area... with all the literary people here... She felt it was a great idea, and we fleshed it out.... 

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Lubbock Electric by Annie Elezabeth Pluto

Annie Elezabeth Pluto

Lubbock Electric
by Annie Elezabeth Pluto
Copyright © 2017 Annie Elezabeth Pluto
Nixes Mate Books
Allston, MA
ISBN  978-0-9993971-7-6
Softbound, 47  pages, $9.95

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

When I used to think of Lubbock I thought of Buddy Holly  of “Peggy Sue,” “Oh Boy,” “Rave On,”  fame and so many other hits. I remembered the plane crash which took his life along with the lives of Richie Valens and The Big Bopper.  I recalled the Class D movie of his life.

But now my thoughts are focused on Annie Elezabeth Pluto’s Lubbock Electric  that is filled with images that make everyone wish the poems were written especially for them.  Pluto’s true love is unnamed, but her love poems assure readers there is an object of desire,

Texas Love Poem #2

Big is your heart
and grave to your making
I will set myself to your love
a thunder to the landscape
rain and flood and wild horses
in your father’s corral
I am standing opposite your desire
slender and humid to be opened
kissed and make more than content
you are the very heart of Texas
never subdued but all ways
singing to your self – soul to the tempo
soul of the story
soul of the earth
soul to my soul
heart of weeks and roses
play and sing
and dance me to the end.

Lubbock Electric

Indiscriminate and irretrievable
the past splinter before us
like broken glass
there are times
when I am afraid to
move as if I will break
and break again your hands bind min
against all that we have lost
lone – together – and found
by chance
by luck
in the name of god
at a time when all roads
led to the middle west – we we
each other without searching
I treasure even the minute
the clocks that do not work
unwound – left fallow to gather
up the splendid dust of hours spent
alone – together – the sound
of your heart against mine
the lights of Lubbock electric
all alight with midnight

Aside from her love poems, Pluto is an astute observer of things around her:

King’s Chapel Burial Ground

The dead are pressed together
In the charnel house, an abundance
of ossuary riches, forgotten for centuries
turned to ditches, the crypts are sealed
off, each portal no longer has a door
but grass recedes to form a floor
in the cold spring evening, the electric hum
of skyscrapers distinguish us from the dead.

Putney Bridge Station

You are the ghost that keeps on coming
up the stairs from the tube –
walking ahead of me on Putney Bridge
your hair reaches the edge of your collar
and I know that you have nowhere to go
destination unknown – the grass in the brick
overgrown – each footprint as quick as air
evaporating in front of me – a torrid column
smoke stack – burnt paper – another way
to always say goodbye.

This is a book of evocative recollections and keen observations. It is an enthralling compilation of poetry by Pluto who is a Professor of Literature and Theatre at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA.

****  Pluto is  also the founder of Commonthought Magazine, and the artistic director and one of the original members of the Oxford Street Players.

Author, The Lynching of Leo Frank, Editor, Muddy River Poetry Review

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Storytelling is Brewing at the Aeronaut Brewing Company.

Colleen Moore and Kelly Smith

Storytelling is Brewing at the Aeronaut Brewing Company.

By Doug Holder

I have been to the Aeronaut Brewing Company on several occasions and I have always enjoyed the brews and the company I was with at the time. I had the privilege to interview the owner of this impressive space, just outside Union Square off Somerville Ave. It is not only an impressive space, that makes fine craft beers (I sampled a stout recently—loved it), but it is a home to many artistic events and venues that encompass music, poetry, etc… I was here on this particular rainy, ungodly evening because I was to interview the women behind Boston Gust—Boston Grownup Storytelling, and to hear a story of my late Uncle David Kirschenbaum that I wrote, and  that was to be performed by a professional storyteller.

I have often read my poetry in various venues—but I can't say that about my stories. I am prone to write memoir essays, and I never really read them in public. So it was a particular pleasure to come to hear a professional performer do it. Colleen Moore , the founder of Boston Gust, lassoed this idea for this series when she was living in Houston, Texas, and was part of BOOTOWN—the mother of this Boston group. Moore told me she lives in Somerville and loves its welcoming environment for artists of all stripes. Her co-conspirator is Kelly Smith of Brookline. Both women-- I am happy to report are warm and welcoming. They both have experience in the theater and writing.  "The Aeronaut has been a dream come true," Moore told me. She continued, “ Our first night we had over a hundred people. This speaks to the kind of community we have in Somerville and at the Aeronaut.”

After our chat I took my beer and took a seat for the reading. The crowd was generally on the young side, but not exclusively. I saw a number of gray-heads bob up in this sea of people. Scott Caseley , who had his piece “The Moth Entered” read by Jason McCool, sat next to me. He told me he is a novelist, and filmmaker and currently involved in a podcast project. And from the snippets of chatter I heard around me it seemed like there was a very engaged band of brothers and sisters.

The show was hosted by Paul Dome, a comedian, and founder of a small advertising agency in Cambridge, MA. An eclectic group of readers and writers were presented. Comedian/actor Ben Scurria read my memoir essay “The Last Time I Saw Uncle Dave”--about my uncle Dave Kirschenbaum, who was a prominent book dealer in New York City, and owner of the Carnegie Bookstore. And let me tell you, Scurria has his act down. It was a real pleasure to listen to a man who had just the right cadence—  he knew when a pregnant pause was just the right touch, and when to engage a fleet-footed staccato. The stories were all well-presented and they ranged from tales of unrequited love, a vision of Jesus as a regular dude, cockroaches as a catalyst to a stalled life, and others.

Another interesting point is that each writer is paid a small sum from funds derived from a passed around box. Although admission is free it is suggested that you make a five dollar donation. I would encourage all Somervillians to attend this grand gathering the last Wednesday of each month.

For more information go to 

In Memory of Poet John Wieners


***This is an old article I wrote for Spare Change News upon Wieners death. I met Wieners through Jack Powers, the late founder of Stone Soup Poets--birthed in Boston in the early 70s on Beacon Hill or " Beatnick Hill" its nickname at the time..

John Wieners was many things. He was a civil and gay rights activist, an anti-war proponent, a mental patient, a teacher, a writer, a homosexual, but most importantly a poet. Born in 1934 in the Boston area, he was identified as a BEAT poet, who was known (according to biographer Raymonde Foye) for his, "quiet elegance and understatement." Wieners was the founder of Boston's MEASURE magazine in the 50's, a graduate of the innovative Black Mountain School of poet Charles Olsen, and the author of any number of poetry collections, the first being THE HOTEL WENTLEY POEMS.

Wieners had said that a significant event occurred to him while he was walking by the Charles St. Meeting House on Beacon Hill in Boston, during the 1950's. Famed
Gloucester poet, Charles Olsen was reading and folks were handing out his literary and art journal the BLACK MOUNTAIN REVIEW. Wieners was inspired by this magazine, which was founded by such men as Olsen, Robert Creeley, Robert Motherwell and John Cage. The BLACK MOUNTAIN SCHOOL ,( connected with the magazine) in rural North Carolina was described as an "experiment in open education." In the spring of 1955 Wieners enrolled in this unique institution, and later came back to Boston,to publish MEASURE MAGAZINE, that featured many BLACK MOUNTAIN poets.

Shortly after being fired from his job at Harvard's Lamont Library, he went to California, (San Francisco), and was introduced to the BEAT cabal of poets and writers,such as: Jack Kerouac, Bob Kaufman, Jack Spicer and others.He worked and hung out in the bohemian milieu of North Beach in San Francisco. He was an active participant in the poetry reading scene, and held court for a number of gatherings at his apartment on Russian Hill. During this time he wrote THE HOTEL WENTLEY POEMS ( considered a classic of the Beat genre), that explored the underbelly of the hardscrabble lives of the BEAT poets. Allen Ginsberg opined : " The whole book is the work of a naked flower..."

Shortly after his stint on the coast, and his excessive drug use, Wieners moved back to Boston and was hospitalized in an asylum. In his poem ACTS OF YOUTH Wieners describes his mordant sensibility, and his intuition of his fate:
"Oh I have/always seen my life as drama,patterned after those/who met with disaster or doom."

In 1965 Wiener's went to the University of Buffalo, to attend graduate school. On the faculty were such poets as Gregory Corso and Robert Creeley. From his experience in Buffalo (which was a hotbed of small press poetry), Wieners finished his collection, PRESSED WAFER. In this collection Wieners struggled with his identity as a writer. On one hand he felt like a priest, with a religious devotion to his craft. Yet he still sought redemption with the pleasures of the flesh.

It has been noted that there was a very strong feminine component to Wieners' poetry. He was always fascinated with the power of beauty. The fem-me-fatale prototype was of particular interest. In his poem, " The Garbos and Dietrichs," he writes:
" I speak of lovers/they murdered because/they are so kind.../Anything to stay/beautiful and remain blind/.../ To these men they turned to swine./

In the 60's and beyond Wieners was plagued by mental illness. In 1971 he moved to small walk-up apartment on Beacon Hill, Boston. He remained here for the rest of his life. He became friends with a number of local poets, including: Jack Powers, Charles Shively, Gerrit Lansing, and Steve Jonas. He taught at the BEACON HILL FREE SCHOOL, and was an activist until his death in March 2002.

I knew Wieners very casually through my friend and mentor,poet Jack Powers. A number of times I saw him read for STONE SOUP POETS at the Old West Church on Cambridge St. on Beacon Hill. He seemed like an absent-minded professor, with old newspapers sprouting from the pockets of his tattered blazer, and his hair decidedly askew. He read from a manuscript, brown from age, and mumbled throughout most of the performance.
Every once and awhile a breath-taking line would break through like the sun from a gray bank of clouds. It was then that I wished that I witnessed this great ruin of a poet during his salad days.

Doug Holder

* much of the information here was culled from the Dictionary of Literary Biography, and an essay on Weiners by Raymonde Foye.