Friday, December 14, 2018

Spotlight on Gloria Mindock, Outgoing Poet Laureate of Somerville

Outgoing Somerville Poet Laureate Gloria Mindock

Spotlight on Gloria Mindock, Outgoing Poet Laureate of Somerville

ARTICLE BY   Karen Friedland

Union Square resident Gloria Mindock has long had a mission of bringing poetry to the people.  

This month, she’s wrapping up a successful two-year stint as Somerville’s second Poet Laureate, having brought poetry and music to elders at the Little Sisters of the Poor, puppet shows to children at two Somerville libraries, and a bi-monthly poetry round table, poetry readings and how-to workshops at the Arts at the Armory on Highland Avenue, as well as outdoor poetry readings at Union and Davis SquaresHer last event, on December 14, was a tribute to Claribel Alegria and other Salvadoran Poets, reflecting the sizable Salvadoran community in Somerville. To top it all offshe gave away 500 books of poetry all over town.

Explains Gloria, “the mission of a Poet Laureate is primarily to reach out to the community—to get poetry known…and read!” She adds: “Giving books away was so satisfying—people were very happy with the books they took. This is a great way for poetry to reach the community, because many people won’t go out and buy them.” Gloria was especially pleased to give away a book of poems by a Russian poet to one of the nuns at the Little Sisters of the Poor, who had admired a poem of his Gloria had read out loud. She also loved the questions the children asked after the puppet shows. Her only regret: not bringing a mike and amp to the outdoor readings, so poets could be heard over the sound of traffic.

 A long-time poet and theater impresario, Gloria is the founding editor, in 2005, of Cervena Barva Press, which publishes cutting-edge poetry, fiction, and plays from writers around the world. The press provides one to two readings each month, and Gloria co-facilitates the “First and Last Word Poetry Series,” which was founded by poet Harris Gardner, on the third Tuesday of the month. Gloria also founded Read America Read, which leaves free books throughout the country to get America reading again. Learn more about the press and Gloria’s related projects, at

Widely published in the US and abroad, Gloria’s Pushcart Prize-nominated poetry has been translated and published into Romanian, Serbian, Spanish, Estonian, and French. Recent publications include I Wish Francisco Franco Would Love Me (Nixes Mate Books) and Whiteness of Bone (Glass Lyre Press). In 2014, Gloria was awarded the Ibbetson Street Press Lifetime Achievement Award and in 2016, she was the recipient of the Allen Ginsberg Award for community service by the Newton Writing and Publishing Center.

Since 2013, Gloria has used her own funds to rent a cozy, brick-walled space in the basement of the Arts at the Armory, at 191 Highland Avenue. The space acts as a venue for poetry readings and workshops and houses a bookstore called The Lost Bookshelf, which sells new and used books. It was in this space that Gloria provided many of the poetry readings, workshops and round tables during her two years as Poet Laureate.
Energized by her experiences as Poet Laureate, Gloria is excited to stay involved with the poetry community via her space at the Armory. In addition to her Cervena Barva Press readings, she will also provide a once-a-month poetry round table—a forum for local poets to read their work
aloud—as well as writing exercises and workshops like the “Get that Pen Out” and “How to Read Your Poetry Aloud—workshops she provided as Poet Laureate.

Recently retired from 30+ years as a social worker, Gloria is thrilled to be expanding her offerings at the Armory in 2019 to include an Open Mic Night on the third Friday of every month and “Monologue Mondays” on the first Monday of the month, in addition to continuing the bi-monthly round table. She’s also started an exciting, new “Pastry with Poets” workshop, recently debuting with a workshop on the villanelle delivered by area poet and professor Richard Hoffman. Learn more about upcoming readings, workshops and events at
Gloria recommends that the new Poet Laureate—who will be named shortly by the Somerville Arts Council—“have fun” in the position. She says that, during her tenure, “I met a lot of wonderful people who are now part of my life—we plan to keep working together to enrich the community.” Gloria believes strongly in keeping poetry readings and workshops affordable, and will be charging $10 for intensive workshops. “You should not have to break the bank to take a workshop,” she explains. Area poets and writers are also strongly encouraged to contact Gloria about presenting workshops.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Staged Reading: Lawrence Kessenich's new play "The Patient" adapted from the short story "The Quiet Room" by Doug Holder Feb. 10, 2019 6PM

(Newton, MA.) Playwright Lawrence Kessenich's new play  The Patient will have a staged reading at the Newton Woman's Club in Newton, MA. Feb. 10, 2019.  The event will start at 6PM. The staged reading is presented by the Playwright's Platform

This play is adapted from a short story by poet Doug Holder The Quiet Room  that is very loosely based on Holder's experience at McLean Hospital. Holder worked at the hospital for 36 years and used to run poetry groups for psychiatric patients there.

The lead actor is Greg Hovanesian-- who will play the mental health worker, actor Paul Walsh will play the patient;  the nurse TBA.

              Paul Walsh                               
              Greg Hovanesian

              *****Anybody is welcome to come — be prepared to sit through a 10-minute critique of the play, and there’s no guarantee that  The Patient will be read first, so you may hear some other fine plays read, too.

Monday, December 10, 2018

History Lessons: A Memoir of Growing Up in an American Communist Family by Dan Lynn Watt

History Lessons: A Memoir of Growing Up in an American Communist Family
by Dan Lynn Watt
349 pages; Xlibris, 2017
ISBN 978-1-5434-29879

Reviewed by David P. Miller

In History Lessons, Dan Lynn Watt has given us an engaging memoir, weaving his family narrative with some of the great historic events of the United States during the 20th century. Although he claims early on that he is “not a historian” (p. xii), this work illuminates history at the grand level, rooted in intimate individual stories. Informed by years of interviews and archival research, backed by fifteen pages of references, this is scholarship fluently melded with autobiography.

The book’s subtitle immediately lets us know what the stakes are. Watt’s father, George Watt (born Israel Kwatt), fought with the International Brigades against Franco during the Spanish Civil War. In World War II, he again fought fascism in the US Army Air Corps. In both cases, he escaped after being caught behind enemy lines. During the entire time, and for long afterwards, George and Margie (Dan’s stepmother) were dedicated members of the Communist Party. For them, there was no inherent contradiction among these commitments, even if the United States government was at first hesitant to allow Spanish Civil War veterans to serve, labeling them “premature anti-fascists” (p. 8). With the rise of McCarthyism, threatened with prison, George went underground for three years, almost entirely out of contact with his family. Dan and his brother Stevie had no idea what had happened to him. It was 1990 before father and son had an open conversation about the underground years.

This memoir explores the deep family background and rippling ramifications of these and other connections with historic milestones. Dan Watt also writes about his formative contacts with figures such as Paul Robeson, whose double 78-rpm album, Ballad for Americans was inspiring to the young boy and was “one of [his] parents’ proudest possessions” (p. 28). Years later, in May 1956, he chanced to witness Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., preaching at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. This riveting experience stimulated what became Watt’s deep commitment to the Civil Rights Movement. Always in the background are this nation’s sustained struggles over “Americanness” and the competing – no, opposing – belief systems which stake claim to patriotism and national identity.

Interwoven with these stories are those of private difficulties. Beside the decades of quiet about George’s three-year disappearance is the story of Dan’s birth mother, who died when he was an infant. His father and stepmother never discussed this with him as a child; he learned the story thanks to a violent outburst from his boorish birth grandmother. That event was so alienating it rolled back into family silence. He tells about his famous uncle, A.M. Rosenthal of The New York Times, who was both affectionate and distant. “Uncle Abe” rarely spent personal time with his nephew, at least in part because of the Watts’ Communist affiliations. Dan Watt’s own complex relationship with his family’s politics led eventually to his sense of having three lives, a phrase borrowed from the mid-1950s TV show, I Led Three Lives. He writes that when his father was underground, “my social life began to fragment into three distinct groups: my political friends from camp [left-wing oriented summer camps] and family connections who were becoming more and more important in my life; my school friends, bright kids who took advanced classes; and my neighborhood friends with whom I played and talked sports, watched TV, swapped comics and baseball cards” (p. 154). In large part, it seems that he took on this memoir project as a means of more fully understanding, and coming to terms with, a complex, conflicted personal history, now lucidly shared with readers.

We are treated to tales of public events, less frequently told. Among these is the blatant racism deliberately embedded in the founding of Levittown, Pennsylvania, the second town by that name after the better-known Long Island suburb. Although the town was eventually desegregated, that happened only after the expected misery of white terror and violence. One telling detail is the worthless expression of regret by the developer William Levitt, who claimed that while he personally abhorred race prejudice, “I know … [from experience] … that if we sell one house to a Negro family, then ninety to ninety-five percent of our white customers will not buy into this community” (p. 231). Dan Watt also devotes two later chapters to his direct involvement in the 1964 Freedom Summer in Fayette County, Tennessee, “a footnote in most histories of the period” (p. 275) as compared with the Mississippi Freedom Summer that same year. His work in Tennessee deepened his commitment to social justice and challenged him to confront his personal fears.

Throughout, History Lessons is a vivid, compassionate portrait of a family’s deeply-lived American convictions, which threatened their security and even, potentially, their lives. It is also, more broadly, a story of American Communism in the mid-20th century. The belief in the Soviet Union by American Communists during this period, and their credulity regarding Stalin, is well-known. George Watt came, much later, to doubt the value of his years underground, a commitment which was caused such hardship to himself and his family. All this must be part of the memoir, but as is characteristic of Dan Watt’s approach, his emphasis is on the costs to real, close, and loved human beings. The pain of gradually realizing misguided trust, of being forced to change beliefs, is here, without mockery or easy retrospective cynicism. And importantly, the political/social story doesn’t end there. Watt’s idealism, at first with no clear outlet given his uneasy pull away from Communism, develops its arc as he finds his place in the Civil Rights Movement (where he met his future wife, Molly Lynn Watt) and as a progressive educator in the 1960s and after.

The book is well-produced, nicely bound and attractive to read and hold, further enlivened by a generous selection of personal and archival photographs. History Lessons is a fine, absorbing achievement.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

The Sunday Poet: Lawrence Kessenich

Poet Lawrence Kessenich

Lawrence Kessenich won the 2010 Strokestown International Poetry Prize. His poetry has been widely published, including in Sewanee Review,  Ibbetson Street and Poetry Ireland. His chapbook Strange News was published by Pudding House Publications in 2008. In 2012, his poem "Underground Jesus" was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Kessenich has also published essays, one of which was featured on NPR's "This I Believe" in 2010 and appears in the anthology This I Believe: On Love. A number of his plays have been produced. His recent novel is titled "Cinnamon Girl."

Early to Work
I sit at a narrow desk in a tight
corner at the new job and realize that
the new job is turning into the old one,
drab and unsatisfying, discontent
rising inevitably like ground fog
from the floor of my heart. And I want

to disappear into that damp weight,
curl up beneath it and languish
in the darkness. Just then, a single ray
of early morning sun inserts itself
between tall buildings, lights an empty
desk across the office. And all at once
I know the choice is mine: fog
or sun, discontent or appreciation,
a fresh start or the old worn path. I turn
to my computer screen, see a challenge
where a moment before I saw a dull task,
take a sip of coffee and get down to work.