Friday, June 15, 2018

Endicott College is hosting its second annual workshop for high school students interested in creative writing June 28-9, 2018

Endicott is hosting its second annual workshop for high school students interested in creative writing.

Endicott College has announced plans to host its second annual Young Writers Workshop, June 28-29, 2018 for area high school students interested in creative writing. Participants will develop their writing skills in sessions on poetry, fiction, and playwriting/screenwriting led by the College’s distinguished creative writing faculty members: Charlotte Gordon, Dan Sklar, and Elizabeth Winthrop. 

Students will create and refine new work, learn how to give feedback to their peers, and receive tips on how to promote and publish their work. At the end of the Workshop, participants will present their work publicly.  

“The Workshop is designed to nurture the students’ talent, help them find and refine their voice, and teach them technical aspects of writing that can make their work more compelling,” said Dr. Mark Herlihy, associate dean, arts and sciences and chair of humanities. “While students will develop their own craft over the course of the weekend, they will also experience what it means to belong to a community of writers.”  

Participants will work closely with the College’s renowned faculty members. Gordon’s Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley won the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography, and her Mistress Bradstreet: The Untold Story of America's First Poet, won a Massachusetts Book Award. 

Sklar is a two-time winner of Endicott's Excellence in Teaching Award whose poems have been published widely and whose plays have been staged at the Actors Studio of Newburyport and the Boston Theatre Marathon. 

Winthrop’s fourth novel, The Mercy Seat, will be published this month by Grove Atlantic. Her other novels include Fireworks and December with Knopf, and The Why of Things with Simon and Schuster.  

The Workshop fee of $150 covers all activities, lunch and snacks each day (9 a.m. – 4 p.m.), and a t-shirt. There will be a discounted rate of $125 for Beverly residents and children of Endicott employees. Participants must be entering grades 9-12 in fall 2018.  

To register, go to For more information, contact Mark Herlihy at 978-232-2178 or

The Sunday Poet: Ben Carson

Poet Ben Carson

Benjamin D. Carson is a Professor of English at Bridgewater State University. His creative work has appeared or is forthcoming in Red Fez, The Ampersand Review, Cactus Heart, Free Inquiry, The Bitchin’ Kitsch, and the Charles River Journal.

We Give Birth to Light

The moon rose full over the cemetery
on the night my mother gave birth to her son,
his face round, his lips blue. This will be
the last one, she said. There will be no more.

The sun set an autumn orange over the field
on the night my mother watched my father take to the road,
his face chapped, his hands raw. This will be
the last harvest, she said. There won’t be another.

The North Star, my mother once said to no one, is the only
light that matters, the one that shines and shines
and shines, even after the last breath is taken,
the field abandoned, the lover lost.

We give birth to light, she muttered, so that
darkness too can have its day.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

In Praise of the Useless Life A Monk’s Memoir

In Praise of the Useless Life
A Monk’s Memoir
By Paul Quenon O.C.S.O.
Ave Marie Press
ISBN: 13 978-1-59471-759-8
142 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

After living six decades in the Cistercian (Trappist) Monastery of Gethsemani, Paul Quenon has written a quiet, self-effacing journal of the heart, which periodically breaks out into syllabic dance and grammatical song. This memoir purports to portray the life of an ordinary man living in an unconventional community, a spiritual haven that attracts both simple penitents and intellectual paragons. However, a man, who keens at the death of trees, claims Emily Dickinson as his soul sister, writes exquisite poetry, and engages in a mysticism that he calls “the choreography of heaven” doesn’t strike me as ordinary at all.

Throughout this personal chronical Quenon weaves in scenes from the life of Thomas Merton, as well as reiterating much of Merton’s counter-cultural wisdom. It could not be otherwise. Early on Quenon had read Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, and Merton’s stature as a modern-day monk had been one of the draws that convinced him to enter the monastery. Once there Merton became his novice master, adding layers of influence onto the young man. Other novices schooled with Quenon during Merton’s stint as novice master included a university valedictorian, a lawyer (presumably there for repentance), a missionary back from New Guinea, a psychologist, a later-in-life college president, a soon-to-be brain surgeon and Ernesto Cardenal, who was to emerge as an influential poet and controversial Sandinista revolutionary in Nicaragua.

Quenon knows his audience and relates many inside baseball vignettes about Merton. In one lightly humorous story the young Quenon appears at Merton’s door to ask him, “What is the meaning of Zen?” In answer Merton bops Quenon on the head with a book. When Quenon persists in questioning this expert in eastern religion and philosophy, Merton says, “There is a cherry tree outside the window,” and leaves it at that.

Mother Nature apparently took over Quenon’s education where Merton left off. She provides him with daily, twenty-four hour classrooms, stirs his enzymes, raises his energy, and generally nourishes his soul. Going out into the weather is not only part of his life but also a spirit-lifting ritual. “I am governed and made into something larger than myself,” says Quenon. “One morning appears as a Chinese painting,” he continues, “with cloaks of fog concealing here, partly there, revealing hills, trees, and fields. Another morn displays a brilliant sprawl of clarity, the color too good to be true, unbearably perfect, until the sun heightens and the sky blanches in the midday heat.”

One of the chapter sections in Quenon’s book he entitles Eminent Trees I Have Known. Here he voices the affecting kinship he felt upon the demise of two linden trees, killed in order to make room for a new infirmary. He studies his own reaction objectively. “I watched from a distance as they were plowed over with a bulldozer, and the sight provoked my voice to a high, soft pitch,” he says. “Such feelings of kinship were a surprise to me; I had never made that sound before, yet it seemed the only decent thing to do at the moment.”

Quenon, not only sleeps under the stars most nights, but has molded his meditational life around locations with expansive views and open to the weather. Among these sites is the porch of Merton’s old hermitage, about a mile into the woods behind the abbey. Quenon is the caretaker of the hermitage and has escorted many renowned visitors there, including Nobel Prize laureates Seamus Heaney and Czeslaw Milosz. He often sits in a chair with a brass plate attached to the top that says, “Bench of Dreams.” It was affixed there by a man who had been assistant secretary general of the United Nations for forty years.

Monks have built-in models for their style of life. I’m thinking of the desert fathers, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Therese of Lisieux. Although familiar with the aforementioned, Quenon seems to prefer the poet Emily Dickinson as an exemplar of Trappist life and thought. He quotes many of her poetic lines including these,

Growth of Man—like Growth of Nature,
Gravitates within.
Atmosphere, and sun endorse it—
But it stir—alone.

Each its difficult Ideal
Must achieve—Itself—
Through the solitary prowess
Of a silent life.

My favorite chapter in Quenon’s memoir he entitles Battle of Wits with a Mockingbird. It’s pretty funny. As the monk tries to sleep outside on the porch of the monastery’s lumber shed, a mockingbird begins an unforgettable aria. At first Quenon tries to communicate with the bird like Native Americans were once wont to do, making an oracle out of the creature. Then he begins to yell at the bird. But the bird believes this is a show of positive enthusiasm. Finally, dead tired, the monk begins flapping his blanket, mimicking a bigger bird. This works—for a while. But the next night the bird is back, having figured out the blanket trick. And this epic battle goes on night after night with Quenon using multiple stratagems like setting up a plastic owl decoy to scare the bird or throwing water into the trees. Yet none of these techniques work. Each defeat of monk by mockingbird Quenon memorializes with a haiku, such as,

I wish talent star
with night variety shows
would go off the air.

And this one,

The Mocker, all night
Harasses the neighborhood
Damn sociopath!

Finally after moving to a new sleeping place the monk planned and carried out a sneak attack, violently shaking the bird’s tree. This successfully startled the bird and he absented himself from the vicinity. Now, however, Quenon exhibits all the telltale signs of remorse. He clearly misses the clever show-off, and says so.

Quenon’s literary window into the everyday life of Trappist monks is anything but useless. It frames the monastery, and, by extension, humanity as a vital buzzing hive of meaningful encounters, with its hooded denizens conjuring up perpetual moments of unique existence and creative imagination. Beware of this book if you’ve lost your sense of childish play, if you live a life without song or dance, or if you feel silly communing with trees. It could change you.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Alison Pruchansky: Her Art 'Flowers' in Somerville

Alison Pruchansky: Her Art 'Flowers' in Somerville

By Doug Holder

There is a certain vibe in the Bloc 11 Cafe in Union Square, Somerville. You can expect the excited screams of kids with their beleaguered parents in quick pursuit, as the tykes explore the inviting jail cell in the back of the cafe. There are the catcalls from the baristas to the patrons to pick up their fare. There is the smoky and scratched voice of Louis Armstrong singing “ Baby it's cold outside” on a warm morning in May. And on this morning Alison Pruchansky joined me at my table with the remnants of my morning repast—smoked mackerel, a plain, pedestrian bagel—with artisanal tomatoes-- brushed off to the side.

Alsion Pruchansky is a Somerville artist who has a studio at the Vernon St. Studios. She has her own business Ample Art and Design where she now primarily works with corporate clients to select art—often her own—to add to the interior design of their offices. She also works a a gallery coordinator at the Chase Gallery in Boston.

Pruchansky has been trained as an artist at Swarthmore and the Sotheby Institute of Art in London. She does mixed media painting on canvas. I viewed a selection of her small canvases. They primarily focus on flowers. They seem like a dream of florid blossoms, heightened by the backgrounds-- that seem to almost lift the work off the canvas. Her use of vivid color engages the eye.

Pruchansky is mostly a painter. She uses acrylics, watercolors, puffy paints and the like, and experiments with them.

Living in Somerville and working at the Vernon Street Studios with a number of accomplished artists—surely helps her own art.

Pruchanksy shares her concern with the cost of housing in Somerville. She has noticed the displacement of a number of artists because of gentrification, and hopes to some extent this will abate.

She is engaged in the art community. She is the Asst. Coordinator for Somerville Open Studios, and has bought a home with her husband in the city. Like her painting, Pruchanksy is sure to flower—here--in-- the Paris of New England.

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