Thursday, July 19, 2018

At Breath and Matter-- A Day Ending with the Boston Sculptor's Gallery

  Left---Doug Holder   Right-- Dewitt Henry ( A founding editor of Ploughshares Magazine)

I am a man of simple pleasures. One of those pleasures is to walk. And Boston is still a walking city--although the landscape is greatly altered. So I left my comfortable abode in Somerville--and headed  across the Charles.  I always like to walk down Charles Street at the foot of Beacon Hill. I was almost swept away by the rush of tourists. There were a lot of new shops--but I was pleased to see Gary Drug was still standing--an old school drugstore--crammed with things to relieve what ails ya'--and all those little knickknacks. It brings me back to the stores of my childhood--the ones my dad took me to in the Bronx. As I traversed the Commons  I saw that Shakespeare's Richard lll was in rehearsal--my favorite by the Bard. I heard screams of horror waft across the Commons--as Richard put in full bloom his nefarious plans. I am going to grab lawn chair and see it one of these humid evenings-- I hope. Next a walk to my old haunt Jacob Wirth's--it was closed! I so wanted the classic house dark on this warm day. The sign said it is closed because a fire--but they will return-- I hope so--this place has marked so many phases of my life.  So I walked down to the Copley Plaza--and had a beer at the grand Oak Bar. The waitress saw I was hot--and said in heavily accented English, " Have a glass of water--it's good for you my dear." That and the amber ale left me restored. Next I walked down Dartmouth Street--past Villa Victoria--a famed housing project amidst the very gentrified South End. Then I wound up on Harrison Ave--part of the SOWA section of Boston-- a very artsy area with galleries, studios--oddly puncutated by the Pine Street Inn--a shelter for the homeless on the end of the block. I remember teaching Nick Flynn's memoir at Endicott College ("Another Bullshit Night in Suck City')  in my creative writing seminar. Much of the memoir takes place in the Inn.

I arrived at at my destination -- at the Breath and Matter exhibit--at the Boston Sculptor's Gallery. It was jammed packed--with folks viewing sculptures paired with poetry. Many of the poets and artists were present like, Wendy Drexler, Julia Shepley, Mary Bonina, Tomas O' Leary, Chris Smart, David Daniels, and many others were present. There was a reading after the reception. I had written an article in The Somerville Times about a number of the artist and poets at the event--and it seemed it was very well-received. It was great to hook up with DeWitt Henry--founder of Ploughares magazine. I have had the pleasure to interview him, and he has a new memoir out-- and he tells me he will have a launch at the Plough &Stars pub in Cambridge--where the magazine was founded.

Before I left Andy Morelin a sculptor and an organizer of the event told me that I was an " iconic character in the Boston poetry scene."  That was very nice to hear--indeed!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Doug Holder Interviews Alan Bingham author of " Dying Well Prepared"

Do you have to be 'crazy' to write poetry?

Robert Lowell with his family

For as long as I can remember there has always been the romantic notion of the "mad," poet or "divinely inspired" poet floating around in the ether.   While working at  a noted psychiatric facility,  outside of Boston for 36 years, I heave heard and read about the legendary poets who paced the  wards. Poets like Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton suffered from severe mental illness, and were hospitalized at different points in their mercurial careers. Plath and Sexton met their end through suicide, and Lowell died in the back seat of a cab he was taking to visit his ex-wife in New York City. Since I have often worked with manic and clinically depressed patients over the years, and therefore have an intimate knowledge of the affliction; I can only write that the toll and the turmoil of depression is not worth the creative insight you might mine. In a review of "The Letters of Robert Lowell', edited by Saskia Hamilton, in "The Boston Globe," I came across  part of a letter Lowell wrote to the poet Robert Fitzgerald about his experience with mental illness: " ...terrific lifts, insights, pourings in of new energy, but no work on my part, only more and more self-indulgence, lack of objectivity; and so, into literal madness i.e. I had to be locked up." As with any experience in our lives, we can bring it   back into our own writing. But my question is, is it worth it? In the midst of mental illness, or a severe depression; the ability to concentrate, to think straight, not to mention to take care of one's most basic needs is severely impaired. Peter D. Kramer, the author of "Against Depression," and a clinical professor of psychiatry at Brown University-- writes that depression takes an actual, tangible toll on the brain. Indeed, MRI studies at McLean Hospital have shown that the actual structure of the brain can be altered due to past abuse and mental illness. It has been speculated that depression can cause the hippocampus to shrink, and may have a big role in the course of heart, and other related diseases; as well as cancer.

 Part of my job over the years at the hospital was to run poetry groups on some of the locked wards. For the most part the poetry that was shared was from psychotic and clinically depressed patients (in the midst of their illness) was impoverished. Often when they were on the mend  they were writing much better and even inspired poetry. They wrote equally well about their experience with their illness, as well as nature, and other less oppressive aspects of their lives. The experience of mental illness can be very good fodder for poetry, but I think if you asked these patient/writers if they would like to go the the depths of depression to mine material for their creative work, the answer would be a resounding "no.'

 Thomas J. Cottle, a Boston-area psychologist, writes " first, there is no evidence to suggest that depression is the cause of the enriched imagination, the basis, in other words, of the creative fount. People paint and write poetry in spite of their illness."

  For me, that is the most inspiring aspect of mental illness and writing. I have seen folks savaged by the disease, barely able to put a spoon or folk to their mouth--pick up a pen, and write.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

of juliet/ winter 2018/spring/summer2018

of juliet/ winter 2018/spring/summer2018

By Doug Holder

Decades ago—I remember working on my master's thesis at Harvard. The thesis was titled “Food in the Fiction of Henry Roth.” My adviser was a prominent Yiddish literature scholar. At the end of the project she told me, “ I thought food as your focus would be trivial, but you proved me wrong.” Food of course is now a national obsession, a hotbed for media attention, a subject for scholarship, etc...

This brings me to Juliet, a restaurant, bistro, cafe, etc... that now resides in Union Square, Somerville—the very place the Sherman Cafe, an old haunt of mine, once lived and breathed.

A few years back I had the pleasure to interview the young and ambitious owners of the said establishment, Katrina Juliet Jazayeri and Joshua Lewin. They are an admirable duo who firmly believe in giving their employees a “ livable wage.” This venue provides a unique dining experience—with well-honed dollops of French cuisine, among its many offerings.

But Juliet has literary aspirations. Josh Lewin is a published poet and just finished a stint at the William Joiner's Writing Workshop at U/Mass Boston. He and Jazayeri founded a literary/food magazine, “ of juliet.” On these pages you will not only find well-written articles on food and other subjects, but you will find poetry. Have if you will this haiku from Megan Guidarelli--”Pouilly--Fuisse, Clos Varambon,”

a creamy lemon
with a stone in the middle
waving a silky scarf.

Obviously Juliet shares my sentiment of food and drink—that it is fine fodder for verse.

There is also a “ I Was Listening” column by Lewin, who writes: “ It turns snippets of conversation from our dining room into stories everyone can hear.” Pedestrian asides about a resplendent smile on a dog, or the intricacies of eating a grapefruit, are turned into funky dialogue.

Included in these issues are—recipes, interviews, a fascinating piece about the Juliet staff cooking at the James Beard House in NYC, evocative photographs of Juliet by Grace Wexler, and much more.

This publication is surely part of the recipe for success at Juliet.

*** of juliet is available at Juliet