Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Sunday Poet: Prema Bangera

Prema Bangera

Prema Bangera is a poet, an artist, an educator, and an editor. Her writing has been published in Quick Fiction, Ibbetson Street, Muddy River Poetry Review, and other journals. She has had featured readings at Mass Poetry's Poetry Coalition themed U35 Reading Series, Salem Arts Festival’s Afternoon Delight, Medicine Wheel, and other venues. Her artwork was exhibited at G Studios and at AAMARP Studios (as part of Peace Drum Project programs), and has appeared on music albums, as promotional designs, and as a book cover which has been archived at Harvard University, University of Buffalo, and UMass Boston libraries. Bangera is currently the Mixed Genre Editor of Midway Journal. She is the Founder and Executive Director of Teen Voices Emerging, an all-girls program for Boston teens with a focus on writing and female empowerment. She also recently launched a healing Arts project called Narratives of Transformative Love. The incentive of this project is to use art and writing to address past traumas, negative criticism, and societal expectations in order to heal and transform our identity to reflect our own strengths and develop self-love.

Ethereal Beginnings

This erratic laughter of wind, masking
the loneliness one feels when in someone else’s country, 
when in face of this terrible beauty
of dark angelic cathedrals crawling into grey worrisome sky,
ready to devour its world beneath.

Even the light of sudden sun against one’s tender skin
leaves you afraid -- this calming loss,
this glistening starry water, its waves chiming against the air.

How when aware, you can hear

it whisper,

as if it were speaking only to you.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Somerville's Michael Russem: An Architect for Books

Somerville's Michael Russem: An Architect for Books

Article by Doug Holder

It was an unusual chilly morning for mid-May, so I found my self huddled in the backroom of my old haunt-- the Bloc 11 Cafe in Union Square. A balding man, with a biblical beard took his place at my table. His name, Michael Russem. Russem is a book designer and printer, and he just opened the Katherine Smith Gallery on 108 Beacon Street in Somerville. The gallery, according to Rusesm will be, “ a place that will promote affordable collecting by graphic designers and others.” Russem continued, “The gallery will tell the story of graphic design that can be discerned from books, stamps, logos, etc...

The first show the gallery will exhibit is the work of the noted designer Ivan Chermayeff—who recently passed away. He designed the logo for WGBH, the NBC Peacock, and other projects. Russem told me, “ He really brought modernism to graphic design. He introduced abstract logos that are not connected with what a business or institution does, but rather what they are. For instance a bank back in the day may have had a dollar sign as a logo. Now—the same bank may have a hexagon with a square—like Chase. Certainly more abstract and it symbolizes to an extent who they are.”

Russem is also the owner of the Kat Ran Press that now resides in Somerville. He has done design work for such prestigious organizations like, David R. Godine Publishing, New York Review of Books, Vassar College, etc... As for his job as a book designer, Russem explained, “ I first look at a manuscript-- then I determine the typeface. To be very simplistic--if for instance if I am doing a book for a French artist, then I would use a French typeface. I also determine the length, and size of a line."

Russem showed me a book he designed by the late poet/ professor Taylor Stoehr-- published by the Pressed Wafer Press, once located in Boston --now in Brooklyn, NY. I knew Stoehr—and published some of his poems in The Somerville Times, and we would often chat in the now defunct Sherman's Cafe in Union Square. This book is titled, Little Prayers. It is a collection of daily meditations. The book is designed in a style that lets the words and lines breath, so as to be read in a calm and contemplative fashion.

Russem, who originally had a shop in North Hampton, MA, told me he designed books of photographs by such noted practitioners of the art as Sally Mann, and Joel Peter Wikin. But many of these books were very expensive and bought by few. He is now more expansive in what he designs.

For right now the hours for his Gallery are —from 11AM to 7PM Saturday and Sunday. .

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The World Doesn’t Know You Poems by Tim Suermondt


The World Doesn’t Know You
Poems by
Tim Suermondt
Pinyon Publishing
Montrose, CO
Copyright © 2017 by Tim Suermondt
ISBN: 978-1-936671-47-2  78 pages, softbound, $16

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Take Billy Collins, mix in a touch of Charles Simic and you get Tim Suermondt. He is an entertaining, thoughtful and serious poet whose newest book is The World Doesn’t Know You.  The poems reinforce his reputation as a poet whose work presents him as one who is romantic, without sentimentality, and intellectually profound.

In “EATING A SAUSAGE DOG WITH MY WIFE ON HER BIRTHDAY, he can turn a cold winter day into a warm romantic event --thanks to a sausage:

The first snow of the season
lies flecked like birdseed
over the landscape of the city—
the atmosphere so crisp I’m sure
I heard the universe crunch.
“This is what you call
feeding your face,” she says,
trying to laugh as she
struggles and chomps away
at the big sausage and bun,
a mustard stained napkin
dropping from her hands, fluttering
in the wind—how silly
we’ll look in the photos, and how happy.

He also digs into sports – baseball – in this case to capture the frustration of a losing streak while enjoying the company of his friend:


Being good citizens my friend and I
deposit our hot dog wrappers and beer bottles
in one of the designated trash bins.
Were we able to we’d deposit the entire team
now nursing a nine game losing streak.
Someone yells for the manager to be fired—
or worse, and everyone within earshot yells their assent.
We climb the ramp leading to the subway,
the stadium rather prison-like in its dimming lights
made worse by the fog of a relentless drizzle.
My friend and I who believe sports is a type of magic
watch the reflections from the train window—
apartment houses, bodegas, and miles of cemeteries
where in this lost season no Lazarus will rise.

Within each of these poems his humor rises like cream; so does his serious side. The first poem about his relationship with his wife, both starts and ends on serious notes, albeit the latter in a gentle, sweet conclusion, while everything in between is a light-hearted look at the couple eating.

The second poem presents three aspects of Suermondt’s poetry.  First, he is a sports fan who does not like his team’s losing streak. Second, he has a good friend with whom he shares the disappointment of loss. And third, unlike many rabid sports fans who believe their team will prevail, Suermondt realizes his team will not overcome its poor efforts.

In all poems in this volume of poetry Suermondt reveals his optimism and his knowledge of different subjects whether it is baseball, a cold winter day, or watching a playground basketball game in which he thinks “I should butt in, show them/moves they’ve never before …”  Basketball is a recurring theme and makes one hope his team is doing well or Suermondt is out on the court and he has made some clean hoops from the three-point line.

Suermondt also travels and in HAN-SHAN he is off in China:

I lean against the palace’s golden balustrade
twined with apricot blossoms
and look down on the streets of Beijing
like the emperor himself may have done
when his subjects stirred in him a longing
to join them in the chaotic world, no less
beautiful for all its hubbub.

There’s the woman I bought a sweet potato
from before I climbed up and there’s
the young couple decked out in designer duds,
the LAKERS yellow shirt on the man
shining like the sun and there’s the old man
who said he’s the last communist and offered
me a tiny porcelain bust of Mao which I bought
and buried deep in the bottom of my bag.

Here he presents a more serious side in his poetry including hiding the most famous symbol of communist China “in the bottom of my bag.”  He anticipates problems in China or some other country( including the United States) should it be discovered.

Suermondt’s poetry is delightful. He has an easy, low key approach, with occasional surprise endings and always a keen understanding of what is accessible and entertaining to the reader. I highly recommend this book to all fans of fine poetry.

Zvi A. Sesling
Author, The Lynching of Leo Frank
Editor, Muddy River Poetry Review
Editor, Bagel Bards Anthologies 7,8&12

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Nevertheless, She Persisted-- Review by Alkalay Appel

Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers, New York
Author: Susan Wood
Illustrator: Sarah Green
Title: Nevertheless, She Persisted

Review by Ari Samuel Alkalay Appel

Often, what we choose to tell children is a better representation of the state which we are in than what we we say to adults. Susan Wood and Sarah Green have given us a gem that shines brightly, a statement about a woman who defines what this planet is missing.

With a title reminiscent of The Little Engine That Could, Nevertheless, She Persisted is a beautifully written and illustrated portrait of a fiery senator's humble upbringing, her life as a mother and wife, and her successful career. Wood and Green have created a tool for teaching young children that anything is possible and especially that being a woman should never prevent someone from fulfilling her dreams.

The journey of the first female senator from Massachusetts is filled with trials: financial instability throughout Warren's youth, dismissal from her university program due to her status as a young mother, unemployment after law school, and the perpetual quest for balance between family life and professional endeavors. Warren does not heroically trounce these challenges but rather navigates them with grace by adhering to the principle of persistence.

If every piece of children's literature has a moral, the moral of Nevertheless, She Persisted is to always be persistent. It is important to mind that the word "persistence" also connotes difficulty. What I like most about the book is that it does not guard young readers from the realities of middle-class life in America. In exploring the theme of persistence, it also probes the specter of erasure for being a woman or for being poor. The threat of losing one's identity is always present, yet the story gives young readers a simple guiding principle: always, always persist. Persist at what you believe in, fight with your words, and people will listen.

The story is human and immediate, though sometimes clumsy in returning to its central theme. For example, in telling of Warren's high school debate club, Wood states that Warren learned about “getting battered, but not beaten” as she made her way to the state championship. This language seems out of place for a high school debate club. Even though a children's book should have a consistent moral, to assume that a child cannot understand specific language in a variety of situations underestimates his or her creativity and intelligence.

Despite this weakness, Nevertheless, She Persisted is full of strengths. One illustration shows a gated manor with a private pond near four shacks, juxtaposing the wealth of one family with the poverty of four others. This disparity is what Warren wants us to notice. The text discusses income inequality due to corporate greed and Warren's work against it as a law professor. Three blue birds fly through the foreground of the illustration, freer than the people below. Fortunately, Warren is someone with something to say about this.

Nevertheless, She Persisted paints Warren as a fighter singularly motivated by the benefit of all, inspired by her humble upbringings to create a better world. Nevertheless, She Persisted gives children a heroine and reinforces that with a little help from one's family, persistence is all every child needs.

 ****Ari Samuel Alkalay Appel is a poet and essayist who lives and works in Roxbury. He enjoys cycling and woodworking during his free time. He grew up in Newton, Massachusetts, where he graduated from Newton North High School. He studied at Whitman College in Eastern Washington, where he obtained a degree in Rhetoric Studies. He also studied at the University of Buenos Aires in Argentina.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Interview with professor, poet, director Anne Elezabeth Pluto

Interview with professor, poet, director Anne Elezabeth Pluto

With Doug Holder

Anne Elezabeth Pluto is Professor of Literature and Theatre at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA where she is the artistic director and one of the founders of the Oxford Street Players, the university’s Shakespeare troupe. She is an alumna of Shakespeare & Company, and has been a member of the Worcester Shakespeare Company since 2011. She was a member of the Boston small press scene in the late 1980s and is one of the founders and editors at Nixes Mate Review.  Her chapbook, The Frog Princess, was published by White Pine Press (1985), her eBook Lubbock Electric, by Argotist ebooks (2012), and her chapbook Benign Protection by Cervana Barva Press (2016). Recent publications include: The Buffalo Evening News, Unlikely Stories: Episode IV, Mat Hat Lit, Pirene's Fountain, The Enchanting Verses Literary Review, Mockingheart Review, Yellow Chair Review, Levure Litteraire – numero 12, The Naugatuck River Review, and Tuesday, An Art Project. I had the pleasure to speak with Pluto on my Somerville Media TV show, Poet to Poet Writer to Writer.

Doug Holder: In your collection Benign Protection you seem to be a master of absence. The absence of your late parents as defined by their “things.”

Annie Pluto: This is sort of my homage to grief, with the death of my father and mother. I had all these things that came from their rent-controlled Brooklyn apartment. I was writing poetry about my father, and when my mother was dying I wrote poetry about her too. The “things” from the apartment represented them. When I would go back to Brooklyn-- I always stayed with friends who were close by to my parents' apartment. So I would walk to their street, but I would never go down it. I didn't want to see the building. Too painful. So I evoked my grief and my parents' stories in my work.

DH: Tell me about your parents.

AP: Well my father had a fascinating life and it was referenced in one of the poems in the collection. My parents were Russian but they lived in Poland. My father was separated from my mother because he was in the Polish Army during World War ll. He wound up as a prisoner in a Soviet camp. He also saw action in Egypt and Italy. Eventually he moved to Canada. And my mother was there. She had thought he was dead. Eventually they married in Toronto. After a waiting a year they came to America.

DH: I know that your are the director of the Oxford St. Players, that is connected to Lesley University. How does your role as a poet mix with that of the theater.

AP: They dovetail. Theater is very group orientated—you work with people. It is very interconnected. Obviously as a professor and director I am in charge of many things. With poetry you pullback. You are with yourself. I need that time too.

DH: You studied at the University at Buffalo in the 70s. I was up there at that time too. I also know Mike Baskinski—the former curator of the small press collection there. What was the lit scene like when you were there?

AP: It was very friendly. It wasn't competitive like New York. I would say people were more interested in helping each other out. I had a lot of mentors. My first collection was published by a Buffalo press, White Pine. I studied with Robert Creeley and Irving Feldman. Creeley was very straight forward. He would get very annoyed if students didn't do their reading. I remember he would deliberately close this large literary tome and dismiss the whole class. I had the privilege to read with Creeley as well.

DH: You were also part of Shakespeare & Company directed by Tina Packer.

AP: Yes. I was always involved with theater. I did a lot of theater as a little girl in Brooklyn. There was a NYC Board of Education radio show at the time. I was in high school then. I would participate in these staged readings they would have. Working with Tina Packer was great—very challenging. I always wanted to be an actor but my parents wanted me to do something more practical.

DH: You were also involved in the small press scene in Allston, MA., a section of Boston.

AP: Yes. I had sent my work to a magazine called, Oak Square. Eventually I met the editor Philip Borenstein. I became involved with the lit mag. Eventually I became the Poetry Editor. Around this time Michael McInnis—( a founder of the Nixes Mate Press), opened a bookstore in Allston. I lived right around the block from it. Allston had a lot of zines. It was a very do-it-yourself scene. It was married to the Punk Rock scene —that was very Allston-centric.  Years later, Mike, Philip and I started Nixes Mate and the rest is history.