Tuesday, February 12, 2019

"The Patient" by Lawrence Kessenich Presented by Playwright's Platform (Newton, MA)

Playwright Lawrence Kessenich

"The Patient" by Lawrence Kessenich
  Presented by Playwright's Platform (Newton, MA)
  Adapted from a short story by Doug Holder
  Feb. 10, 2019

Congratulations to Lawrence Kessenich (playwright) and Doug Holder (memoir author) for the 26 minute actors’ reading of THE PATIENT: a wonderful story brought powerfully to the stage. I loved the contrasts between monologue, where the young writer character, appeals to audience sympathy for his lonely and hardscrabble life; and dialogue, as he is upstaged by a restrained and sedated mental patient, whom he’s supposed to watch all night—his miserable job. Where the writer has been appealing to “us” to listen and commiserate with his situation, the patient reads his character, even in silence, all too well, and berates him for self-pity: no girl, shacked up in some “suicide suite.” Get a life! Finally a nurse sedates the patient, leaving him silent, while the writer’s eyes fill with tears. I was reminded of that scene in Richard Yates’s REVOLUTIONARY ROAD, where the self-doubting Frank Wheeler is critiqued and exposed by a mental patient on family furlough--arguably the best scene in Sam Mendes’s film version, with Givings, the patient, played by Michael Shannon.---DeWitt Henry

*** DeWitt Henry is the founding editor of Ploughshares Magazine. His latest book is a collection of essays  titled,  SWEET MARJORAM.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

A Conversation with Lloyd Schwartz: Somerville's New Poet Laureate.

By Doug Holder

I have seen Lloyd Schwartz in various venues over the years. I read with him once, and had the occasion to talk to him a few times. Of course, I knew of his many accomplishments, his poetry, his body of work, his Pulitzer-Prize winning music criticism, his Elizabeth Bishop scholarship, etc... Over the years I had lobbied for the creation of the Somerville Poet Laureate position, and finally Greg Jenkins, the director of The Somerville Arts Council, Harris Gardner and myself created the position--got the mayor's blessings- and formed a committee. As it so happened I wound up on the committee that voted for Lloyd Schwartz for our third poet laureate. On a balmy day in February--the very day the Patriots marched through Boston with another Superbowl win, I met with Schwartz at my backroom table at the Bloc 11 Cafe in Union Square, Somerville.

Schwartz is easily recognizable with his shock of white hair, a slight scholarly stoop, and a flowing white, biblical beard. But if you look behind your initial take you will notice a man with child-like eyes, seemingly receptive, amused, and full of curiosity.  They are not glazed over from that "been there, done that"  of someone with a long and distinguished career.

Doug Holder:  First off you had a poetry column in the Boston Phoenix for a number of years. This inspired me to have my own in The Somerville Times.

Lloyd Schwartz:  Yes. I had that in the book supplement, the Phoenix Literary Section, for four or five years. I thought that this was the best book section in Boston. I was the poetry editor and I picked the poems. Years after the supplement closed people were still submitting poems.

DH: You have had a long and illustrious career--why now did you decide to apply to be the Somerville Poet Laureatre?

LS: That's a good question. It is nice that I have the title. I think I have lived in Somerville now for over thirty years, and it feels like home. It is such an interesting community--such a changing community. Somerville is probably the most densely populated city in the USA--it has been voted an All-American city three times. A lot of poets live here. Somerville has had two previous poet laureates, like Gloria Mindock, Nicole Perez Dutton--each of them very different from the other. It means something to me to represent the city. I thought why not give it a shot? I told the committee that I have devoted my life to poetry, and teaching poetry. I have tried to convey my own passion to students. I thought, " Why not do that with my neighbors?" It is a new adventure--maybe I can make a difference.

DH:  Part of your vision for the poet laureate is to have elements of former U.S. Poet Laureate  Robert Pinsky's "Favorite Poem Project," in which the regular, non-poet kind of men or women can talk about and read their favorite poem.

LS: Yes. I have been advised to get a space first and establish dates, and then bring it to the mayor's attention. I really want to have the mayor part of this. I bet anything that the mayor has some poem or poetry that has been important to him. I don't want poets to be a part of this, at least not initially. I want people who are not necessarily part of the poetry community. I want regular folks to read a poem that was important to them, and explain why the poem is important to them. We need something like this.

DH: Your are known as an accomplished music critic and poet. What did you start out wanting to be?

LS: I wanted to be an actor when I was a kid. I was acting in children's theater from the very start. One of the things I liked about theater was how much team effort was involved. Everyone connected for a show, working together for a successful event. Later I went to Queens College in New York City. One of the first things I did was go to a meeting of the drama club. I was really shocked that everyone there seemed incredibly self-important. This was not the kind of theater that I wanted to be part of. The following week I went to a meeting of the literary magazine. The magazine was titled  "Spectrum." There were some remarkable writers there-- some of whom went on to be fairly well-known. I felt a sense of community there that I didn't feel with the drama club. Later I became editor of the school magazine. I was also part of the more radical school magazine, "New Poems." Actually, I wasn't interested in poetry until my senior year in high school. I had a great English teacher--who loved poetry--and did everything he could to get us interested. I remember he used to leap on his desk and recite Shakespeare.

DH:  You grew up in a working class family in Brooklyn. You said it was fortunate you had the option of a city college.

LS: Oh yeah. My father worked in a sweatshop in the garment industry. He was from Romania. He never learned to read or write in English. He was an extremely bitter man. My mother stopped working in the 1940s.  Queens College, a city college, was essentially free. I couldn't have gone to college otherwise,  because we didn't have the money. I got a Woodrow Wilson scholarship to go to graduate school at Harvard.

DH: Was Harvard a culture shock for you?

LS:  Yes and no. But it was a great adventure for me. You know I always loved music. I used to go to shows with my mom--I took it all in. I remember I moved into my first floor room on Oxford St. near Harvard's Natural History Museum. It was a hot day in August--my window was opened, and I heard a passerby whistle a theme from  Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra. I thought this was fantastic. The best thing that came out of graduate school was the friends I made, especially other poets, like Frank Bidart, and later the poet Elizabeth Bishop.

DH: Did you take a workshop with Lowell at Harvard?

LS:  I never took his official workshop. I was a regular member of what was called his "office hours." This was opened to anyone--whether you were from Harvard or not. People came off the street to share their poems. It was an amazing group of people. I went every week for years.

DH: How did you meet Elizabeth Bishop?

LS: I met her through my friend Frank Bidart. I loved her poems. In 1970 she replaced Lowell and gave a reading at Emerson Hall in Harvard Yard. Frank asked her if he could introduce his friend Lloyd Schwartz. I said to her,  "I really love your poetry." She replied, " Oh, thank-you," and walked away.  She was very shy, also self-conscious. She also had a drinking problem.She was an odd alcoholic. She would go on binges. If she had one drink--she was over-the-top.  When she wasn't drinking she was fine--very caring.  At the time I had been struggling with my PhD thesis. So I decided to change my topic. So I thought, "What about Elizabeth Bishop?"  I think we became friends around 1974 or 1975. I called her up and asked, " How would you feel if I write about you?" She said, "There isn't much to write about." I said, " Let me worry about that." I had to promise that I would finish my thesis."

One thing Bishop couldn't stand was talking about herself. But she agreed to meet with me as long as I finished the thing. When I met with her she would talk about the circumstances around the poems but she would not talk about interpretation. She never got over the feeling of not being an academic. She questioned the worth of poetry itself.

DH: Did you ever meet Denise Levertov when she lived in Somerville, Ma.?

LS: I never met her. She did teach at U/Mass. One of my first professional reviews was in the Boston Herald. It was a review of a new book of hers. I thought it was awful. I hated to do it but I panned it.  But this is the critic I think I am--I have to say what I think.  Her poetry in this case was very political and I thought it didn't succeed as good poetry. I went out of my way to avoid meeting her because of that review. It is hard to write good political poetry.

DH: What do you find unique about Somerville?

LS: Somerville has changed a lot. I bought my house here in 1984, in East Somerville. I used to live in Cambridge, and I loved Cambridge. Eventually I lost my apartment. Then I came into some unexpected money. I found a house I could afford. The whole neighborhood was Italian and Irish. A resident told me that you could tell the difference between an Irish and Italian household by looking at their front yard. An Italian family would have tomato plants next to their  Madonna statues; the Irish family would not. Way back then Vinny's Restaurant opened on Broadway. Great Sicilian food--I still eat there today. But the community has changed. Now I live next door Haitian minister and his family. It is a much more inclusive area---just look at all the varied new restaurants that line Broadway. Somerville has changed radically. We now have the Assembly Row Mall. If you had told me in the past I would someday be able to walk to a Brooks Bros. store from my  house--well, I wouldn't have believed you. I just find the city so much more interesting--with all the young folks coming in--all the ethnic groups in the mix.  I am lucky to be here. I would never sell my house--unless they had to cart me away to some nursing home.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

All Prose Selected Essays and Reviews by William Corbett

All Prose Selected Essays and Reviews
© 2001 by William Corbett
ISBN 978-1-40396-43-9
First Pressed Wafer Edition 2018
Pressed Wafer, Brooklyn, NY 11226


This delightful collection of essay, criticism and memoir arrived with a grim announcement by Michael Russem who is Pressed Wafer’s design and production department, “I'm not sure I know the Pressed Wafer origin story. Unfortunately, I do know how it will end: with lawyers and accountants and courts and the IRS – and without Bill Corbett showing us how to plow ahead by force of will, ignoring the lawyers and accountants now, but trusting them to take care of the courts and IRS later.”

All Prose was a perfect choice for the concluding volume of Bill Corbett’s eclectic, idiosyncratic, unique and chocolate ice cream with Tabasco sauce list of publications that he selected for Pressed Wafer over its18 years of life. Annual subscribers to the press would receive a variety of postcards, novels, nonfiction and poetry, which often would make you go, “Oh! Yes!” but sometimes go, “!!?” The list was sprinkled with book length monographs on artists (illustrated as if they were miniature catalogs for a shows at the MFA) and best selling, by Pressed Wafer standards, compendia of the lucid political essays of George Scialabba (they ought to have also been best selling by the standards of the NYT.)

The 99 essays of All Prose, arranged in three sections (Arts & Artists; Books & Writers; and Memoir, Movies, Music) make a perfect memorial volume for Pressed Wafer and William Corbett. All Prose displays an expanse of curiosity, imagination, and subject that makes it a doppelgänger to the spirit of Bill’s press.

He writes with an ambling conversational prose as in these lines on Fanny Howe's Selected Poems:

The geography of her poems is Boston and, over the long selection from O'clock that closes this book, Ireland, her mother's homeland. But Howe’s poems are no more about these places than Dickinson’s are about Amherst. The place from which they emanate is the spirit. (p. 233)

or in this paragraph on a photography exhibit at the DeCordova Museum:

And from here on because of the show’s size – 231 photographs by sixty photographers – I offer my own guided tour. A step back first. Marie Cosindas’ color portrait Bruce Pecheur (1965) demonstrates an Old Master command of exquisite, masculine browns. She has contrived such a volume in the photographs (5 by 7 inches) that the image is more powerful in the mind's eye than its actual size suggests. Now on to the Edgerton room. (p. 146) 

Many of the essays display a dry wit that fairly drips with pleasure. I know; I know; “drips dry” makes sense but “dry drips?” Here is the first paragraph of his movie review “Pablo Picasso Asshole,” which provoked that mixture of metaphors:

If, as the song says, “no one ever called Pablo Picasso an asshole,” that is no longer the case. Not that the vulgar Surviving Picasso does the deed. It doesn't have the nerve. Instead Merchant Ivory and their screenwriter Ruth Prawer J. Jhabvala create situations to which the viewer can respond only with, “Who does that asshole Picasso think he is?” or, “How can those women put up with that asshole Picasso?” Neither of which gets answered, and that is only part of the problem. (p.380)

I found Corbett’s integrity, which gives all of his prose its substance, most simply revealed in “Senator Eugene McCarthy,” a succinct essay of 30 lines. He begins this memoir about his three meetings with the senator, “He rounded the corner of a friend's house in Vermont. It was 1974. I was 31 and as eager to impress as I was to be impressed.” (p.361) And it ends as Corbett describes their third meeting with an honesty of self-examination that brings Montaigne to mind:

“He remained charming and polished as only politicians (I have now met two or three) can be, but he was making hollow noises. As I judged him harshly I began to see how hollow I had been, how quick to put on airs, most readily the air of attention, from the moment we met. Now, 10 years after our last dinner, it seems like a three act play in which I played a role I am somewhat ashamed to know I had in me.” (p. 362)

            The book left me regretting that I hadn't found out about this prose of his earlier; I could have (Zoland Books published a first edition in 2001.) This regret was evoked by his review of “We Are the Real Countries: The English Patient.” when he wrote, “The few poorly staged scenes – Hana’s friend’s jeep blowing sky high and the death of the sapper Kip’s sergeant hardly mattered.” (p. 385) As I read that, I wanted to set off and find Bill and tell him why the friend’s death is the scene from the movie that I have held most vividly in my memory. The exuberance of that spring day and of Hana’s friend as she jumps out and back into the Jeep with the money for the evening’s wine—all of that vivacity naïvely ignoring the line of infantry beside which the Jeep speeds to the explosion that kills her. Her death, in the words of a poet, Ramon Guthrie, who knew much about death in war, “like a puppy’s lunge parting a frayed leash.”[i] That conversation with Bill would have been fun to have. What he tells us about The English Patient, he learned because he acted on a felt need to see it a second time. It makes me think I need see it again myself, and ask as he does, “What did I miss the first time?”
That question “What did I miss the first time?” which Bill asks or implies in other essays, such as “Senator Eugene McCarthy,” and in the review “Das Boot,” which I recommend, is, I think, a key to the substance of this work. He renders to us opinion not theory nor artistic ideology but that one question, which implies another, “What do you think?” With that implicit question he includes us in a conversation with a spirit, the same he brought to our attention in his remarks on Fanny Howe’s poems.
            Although I won’t have Bill around reminding me to look and then to look again, I will have the 90 or so remaining essays (averaging 4.02040816 pages apiece) in length, which is, I think, a good one for a good read to wake up your mind and relax it at the same time. Perfect to put by your night table, or beside your desk for a quick pick me up when your mind has gone stale, so you can return to your task with a fresh perspective you will have osmoticly absorbed from Bill.

A final note on the book’s quality, All Prose is bound in signatures, the spine is not merely the edges of loose pages dipped in glue. So, because I suspect the paperback it comes in will get worn from much picking up and putting down, I may take it to the bindery for a sturdy hardcover or, who knows, give it the dignity of leather it deserves.

In closing I give you Michael Russem’s appeal that arrived with my copy of All Prose, as a reminder to not forget Pressed Wafer:

In an effort to appease the aforementioned lawyers and accountants, the courts and the IRS, the remaining stock of Pressed Wafer books must be sold off as soon as possible. To that end, all books published in 2017 or earlier are now available for 75 percent off the retail price. Visit pressedwafer.com to order more recent titles held in our warehouse. Or visit spdbooks.org and search Pressed Wafer to order new, old, and rare titles directly from the distributor. And then ask your
friends to do the same.

As we were posting this review we got this update from Michael Russem:  By the end of this week pressedwafer.com will go offline and all Wafers will be removed from the distributor’s site. How people will get these books short of visiting the basement at 375 Parkside in Brooklyn I do not know. The Harvard Bookstore picked up twenty copies of All Prose the other day, though—and they dropped off all the other old books (which were then put out on my stoop and picked up for free by pedestrians).

[i] “Dead, How to Become It,” Maximum Security Ward and other Poems, Persea Books, New York, New York, 1984, p. 7

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Feb 12 5PM Doug Holder Interviews Novelist Belle Brett about her new novel, " Gina in the Floating World"

Novelist Belle Brett 
see it live on 5PM on Somerville Media TV  channel 3 http://somervillemedia.org 

In Brett’s debut novel, an American student embarks on a journey of self-discovery while pursuing her future in Japan.
Dorothy Falwell, a 23-year-old woman from Illinois, arrives in Tokyo in 1981, eager to start the banking internship that she believes will ensure her admission into an international MBA program. When she arrives at the bank, however, she’s dismayed to discover the internship is unpaid. Desperate for paying work, she accepts a job as a hostess at a suburban club. The owner, Mr. Matsumoto, dislikes the name Dorothy and renames her “Gina,” after his favorite actress, Gina Lollobrigida. Intent on pursuing her banking career, Dorothy soon quits the club, but financial realities force her to return to hostessing at a place owned by Mr. Matsumoto’s wife. There, she befriends the other hostesses and attracts an admirer, Mr. Tambuki, a wealthy businessman. He’s also a former Buddhist monk, and he introduces Dorothy to the way of Zen and the beauty of Japanese art. When she isn’t entertaining clients at the club, she indulges in a passionate affair with him. As their relationship deepens, she enters an intoxicating world of art and sexual experimentation; however, her lover maintains an aura of mystery. Then an encounter with a client takes a dangerous turn, making her take stock of her life. Brett’s engaging and compulsively readable debut traces one woman’s erotic coming-of-age in a frank, intelligent manner. Dorothy is an appealing protagonist—a recent college graduate anxious to leave her hometown of Joliet and see the world. Her initial culture shock and disappointment regarding the internship are believable, as are her close friendships with lifelong residents and members of the expatriate community. The well-developed supporting characters include Hiro, a Japanese student and Dorothy’s erstwhile boyfriend; and Gabe, an American expatriate. Her scenes with Mr. Tambuki are intensely erotic without being gratuitous, and Brett effectively uses their shared love of art as a means of expression, seduction, and, in a particularly powerful scene, stretching personal boundaries.---Kirkus Review

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

No Common War by Luke Salisbury

No Common War by Luke Salisbury ( Black Heron Press) 2019.

Luke Salisbury’s stunning Civil War novel No Common War brings America’s bloodiest war to life through the eyes of a father, a son, and those who care about them.

Mason Salisbury, a staunch abolitionist, has seen the cruelty of slavery first hand. His son Moreau, called Ro, is an equally staunch pacifist—until he befriends a runaway slave. After Fort Sumter, Ro enlists and marches off to war with other young men from his small town in upstate New York.

Though it is narrated by both son and father, Ro emerges as the book’s main character. Also taking the stage are his mother; Merrick, his cousin and fellow soldier; Helen, the girl he leaves behind; his uncle Lorenzo; and several fellow soldiers with whom Ro grew up and forms tight bonds. These characters are drawn from Salisbury’s family stories; they are dimensional and complex from the first, and anxiety over their fates propels the story.

The text recreates battle scenes in granular detail, etching them in acid. It captures the isolation of soldiers within their own tiny cadres, picnickers who turn up to watch the first battles but leave disappointed at the lack of fierce fighting, and families traveling by wagon to battle sites in hopes of identifying and retrieving their dead or wounded kin. Such sharp details build a sense of realism that ratchets up tension each time Ro and his comrades take the field.

The effects of the war on families at home are clear, too. Those who leave to fight never return the same, and the North is seen mourning for its lost innocence just as the South does. The book perfectly captures the pitch of the national upheaval and its emotional traumas.

Beautifully written, No Common War ranks as one of the best war novels in decades.SUSAN WAGGONER (March/April 2019)

Disclosure: This article is not an endorsement, but a review. The author of this book provided free copies of the book to have their book reviewed by a professional reviewer. No fee was paid by the author for this review. Foreword Reviews only recommends books that we love. Foreword Magazine, Inc. is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Grolier Poetry Foundation and Forums Trust to Host the First in a Series of Events in 2019 to Raise Financial Support

The Grolier Poetry Foundation and Forums Trust to Host the First in a Series of Events in 2019 to Raise Financial Support
This Event will be Held on January 25 at the Historic Sheraton Commander

by Francine C. LaChance

2019 is shaping up to be an exciting year for the Grolier Poetry Foundation and Forums Trust. The first in a series of events, planned to raise financial support and celebrate the Grolier legacy, features Peter Balakian, Pulitzer Prize Winning Poet and Grolier Board Member, and Susan Barba, Poet and Senior Editor for New York Review Books. They will read from their poetry, discuss their work, sign books, and take questions from the audience. This event will be held on Friday, January 25, at 7pm, at the historic Sheraton Commander, coincidentally, also established in 1927, the same year as the Groler. Afterwards, there will be a reception with generous amounts of delicious hors doeuvres and a cash bar. Although the reading starts at 7pm, doors will open at 6:15pm to welcome guests who would like to enjoy food and a drink before the reading.

Trustee and  landlord of the famed Bloc11  in Somerville,  Ifeanyi Menkiti said he “very much looks forward to this event, which honors the now 91 year old Grolier tradition of bringing poets and those who love poetry together.” The guest list of poets, so far, includes: Kathleen Spivack, Frank Bidart, David Ferry, Robert Pinsky, Lloyd Schwartz, George Kalogeris, Fred Marchant, Martha Collins and Askold Melnyczuk. Poets Balakian and Barba gave us a preview of their discussion, stating: “We will reflect on poetry and its relationship to trauma, collective memory and the poems engagement with history.” Menkiti remarked “The focus of this reading aligns beautifully with the Grolier mission. Hosting these types of events is exactly what led me to save the Grolier from closing in 2006, and continues to excite me about our future.”

Poets Peter Balakian and Susan Barba shared their reflections on the Grolier, along with a request for support:

For us, as for so many poets, the Grolier has been a vital location, and, for nearly a hundred years, a temple to poetry and the most historically important bookstore of its kind. Because poetry is the cutting edge of language and a singular force in probing human experience, the Grolier remains essential to American life. Please come out and support the Grolier and its future.” 

Another reason to come out and support the Grolier is that they are now transitioning from a private operating foundation to a public charity. Menkiti’s intention has always been to shepherd this legendary cultural institution, and thereby to prevent any possibility of its ever closing, as almost happened in 2006. Menkiti is working closely with Francine C. LaChance, Consultant for the Grolier, to develop a broader range of funding opportunities in order to shift the financial burden from himself to some other sources, which include: donors, grants, and events, including the upcoming evening at the Sheraton.

The Grolier is and has been a beloved icon of culture and poetry for near a century, while also preserving the historic quality of Harvard Square. With many friends who want to support us, this shift to a public charity makes sense,” said Menkiti. While Menkiti will continue to lead the cultural work of the Grolier, he also noted that he did not intend his role as the primary source of financial support to continue indefinitely.
The Grolier expresses gratitude for the following support, for the January 25th event:

Venue Sponsor, discounted rates:
Michael Guleserian, General Manager of the Sheraton Commander

Book Sponsors, donated books:
Randolph Petilos, Poetry and Medieval Studies Editor, University of Chicago Press
Sue Berger Ramin, Associate Publisher, David R. Godine

Event Supporter:
Askold Melnyczuk, Arrowsmith Press.

The Grolier, owned by longtime Somerville resident Ifeanyi Menkiti, also acknowledges long standing support and generosity from our friends, with special thanks and gratitude at this time to Kathleen Spivack, David Ferry, and Emily Nammacher.

Tickets and select books by featured poets are available for purchase online. If you are not able to attend this event, you may still purchase these featured books online, for pick up at the Grolier, or for shipping, after the event. If you would like to have your books signed, please email: francine.lachance@grolierpoetrybookshop.org.

What can you expect from the Grolier in 2019? Menkiti remains fully engaged in continuing and advancing the cultural work of the Grolier. He appears to be ramping up more events, more publishing projects with the Grolier Poetry Press, and some new and exciting special projects, including, potentially, a fascinating event that would be of great interest to our local friends, and currently under consideration with the Cambridge Historical Society.

Additional 2019 events and readings include: an event featuring Robert Pinsky and his book length poem An Explanation of America, now celebrating 40 years; a re-issue and celebration of David Ferry’s Grolier Poetry Press book Ellery Street; and the Arrowsmith Press Book Launch. Readings in the Book Shop will feature poets Ben Mazer and A.E. Stallings, George Kalogeris, and Raul Zurita and William Rowe translator.

Please visit our website for more information about the Grolier, including upcoming events.

If you can't attend the upcoming event at the Sheraton, but would like to support the Grolier, please consider making a donation.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Lloyd Schwartz Named Somerville’s Third Poet Laureate

Lloyd Schwartz Named Somerville’s Third Poet Laureate
Somerville resident and accomplished poet, Schwartz will serve a two-year term.

SOMERVILLE – The City of Somerville announced this week its third Poet Laureate, Lloyd Schwartz. Schwartz is a Somerville resident with an impressive literary background including his current work as the Frederick S. Troy Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts Boston. His poetry collections include These People;Goodnight, Gracie; Cairo Traffic; and most recently, Little Kisses (University of Chicago Press). His poems have been published in, among many other journals, The New Yorker, Poetry, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Paris Review, Kenyon Review, Agni, Consequence, and Ploughshares, and have been selected for the Pushcart Prize, The Best American Poetry (three times)and The Best of the Best American Poetry.

“Somerville has so much creative energy and power, and we are well known for our vibrant arts scene. Similarly, we have a talented, well-educated, and thoughtful writer’s community that needs a voice. In Lloyd Schwartz, Somerville gains a tremendous advocate and partner for the writing arts, and I am proud to welcome him as our City’s third Poet Laureate,” said Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone.

The City created the Poet Laureate position in 2015 to enhance the profile of poets and poetry in Somerville and surrounding communities. The Poet Laureate is expected to bring poetry to segments of the community that currently have less access or exposure to poetry: senior citizens, youth, and schools. Appointed by the Mayor, the Poet Laureate will serve a two-year term and will receive an honorarium of $2,000 per year.

“Lloyd’s work is poised and insightful, and I think it will really resonate with the Somerville community,” said Gregory Jenkins, Director of the Somerville Arts Council. “He conveyed a thoughtful perspective on his approach to this position, and has a passion for promoting poetry through his teaching.  We’ve gained an impressive ambassador in Lloyd Schwartz.”

I’m honored to have been chosen Somerville’s new poet laureate. I’ve been living and writing in—and writing about—this city for nearly 35 years. It’s come to feel like home. I love its down-to-earth spirit and its increasing inclusivity. Having spent my whole adult life bringing poetry to my students, I value the chance to encourage my neighbors to love poetry as much as I do,” said Lloyd Schwartz. 
Schwartz was chosen based on a series of criteria, including excellence in craftsmanship, professional achievement, and creating a vision for the position. A panel composed of four local poets— Doug Holder, Harris Gardner, Linda Conte, and Hilary Sallick—reviewed applicant work, interviewed candidates, and ultimately chose Schwartz.

As a panelist on the Somerville Art Council's Poet Laureate panel I am pleased to announce that Lloyd Schwartz will be our new poet laureate. All panel members were impressed with Schwartz's experience, commitment, and poetry. We feel he will raise the poet laureate position to even a higher level,” said Doug Holder.

Jackie Rossetti
Deputy Director of Communications
City of Somerville
617-625-6600 ext 2614

Feb 12, 2019 7PM Newton Free Library Poetry Series Begins!


Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Doug Holder Interviews Philosopher Richard Oxenberg about--On the Meanin...

On the Meaning of Human Being By Richard Oxenberg

On the Meaning of Human Being
By Richard Oxenberg
Political Animal Press
ISBN: 978-1-895131-30-7
248 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Not since Saint Thomas Aquinas channeled Aristotle by way of Boethius in Summa Theologica has philosophy and theology met in such an unexpected and enlightened way. Richard Oxenberg in his new book, On the Meaning of Human Being, Heidegger and the Bible in Dialogue, uses a framework employed by the estimable (and somewhat infamous) Martin Heidegger to get at the ethical basis of humanity and the relevance of religion in the twenty-first century.

The first half of the Oxenberg book sets up his secular and foundational approach as well as developing a tool box of helpful terms and delving philosophic concepts. His choice of Heidegger seems at first rather odd (more on that later) and then… and then… not so much. Being and Time, Heidegger’s breakthrough work of phenomenological investigations, is clearly up to the task. Oxenberg manipulates Heidegger’s perceptions masterfully, architecturally structuring his own original arguments from them with deftness and certainty.

Human Being, as defined by Heidegger/ Oxenberg, exists as more than an entity. It is rather a subject connected to objects which are influenced by pretty spooky forces. Oxenberg explores this complex world with verbs that signify value such as “care” and “matter” as in “we care about things” or “things matter to us.” Each object is an object because of a subject’s concern. According to Oxenberg this concern is basic to Being. In his dialectic Being exists not only in a space-time dimension, but also in a qualitative or axiological dimension. The values intrinsic to this dimension are inseparable from Being itself. Humans derive meaning from mattering. Goodness mattered to Plato and Aristotle and also matters to Judao-Christianity and the basis of these sets of beliefs match up in uncanny ways.

Oxenberg deals with the estrangement of theology and philosophy forthwith and without hesitation. Rene Descartes is quickly fingered as the evil genius and historical bad guy and his philosophical dualism, although spectacularly successful in mechanistic living, entices questioning seekers down the wrong rabbit hole in mankind’s search for meaning and truth. According to Oxenberg/ Heidegger Cartesian facts are nothing more than abstractions of our “caring about things.” When humans set their sights on an object (a desk, a chair, a friend, themselves) they do so for the sake of something. Subjects project that value onto their object and this defines meaning. The subject cannot be separated from the object, and thus this is not a subjective process. Nor can this be considered objective. It is a process of projection that extends into the future and back to the past, and it must be understood as a whole.

Heidegger calls his re-envisioned human being Dasein or Being-in-the-World. Each Dasein can be described as Being-towards-Death, that is, authentic being, or Das Man, that is, inauthentic being. Later on Oxenberg describes yet another mode of existence he terms Being-towards-Life offered by Judeo-Christianity. Soren Kierkegaard points out man’s alienation when confronting death in his arguably authentic life. Anxiety causes this Being, a being lost to existential despair, to seek eternal life to fulfill himself. Eternal, by the way, is not necessarily defined in temporal terms. Oxenberg goes to great lengths to describe its qualitative fabric.

Curiously, early in the book Oxenberg states that modern scientific thought deliberately “seeks to discount the subjective concerns of the observer in an effort to provide a strictly “objective” account of reality.” He argues that this viewpoint results in a distorted understanding of Being. Oxenberg is right on both counts, of course, if he is referring to Newtonian science and mathematics and I think he is. But he would not be right if he were referring to the bane of Einstein’s original and elegant theoretical inclinations (God does not play dice with the world)—quantum physics. In fact it is impossible to read Oxenberg’s description of Heidegger’s phenomenological ontology without one’s mind wandering into the realm of quantum mechanics (think Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principal and the Double Slit Experiment). In this quantum world the observer by his very observing alters his object. Also in this world exotic particles demonstrate invisible connections over space and time. This spookiness, begging for theological answers, finds its equivalent in Heidegger’s concepts and buttresses, in an architectural sense, Oxenberg’s theological explorations.

Heidigger, who in his life purported to seek authenticity with the same zeal that Aristotle sought goodness, joined the German Nazi Party before World War II. His supporters argue that he did so for career purposes and never became an active party member. Maybe. Oxenberg does rehash those sorry facts in a brief and unsatisfying attempt to understand Heidegger’s disastrous move. In fairness, Oxenberg had no choice, his use of Heidegger’s analytic necessitates some kind of explanatory comment. Ignominy can’t be ignored in the midst of righteous exploration.

In the second half of the book Oxenberg creates a rapprochement of sorts between philosophy and religion. He aims to accomplish this by explicating the Old and New Testaments with the use of Heidegger’s already developed hermeneutical tools. Heidegger would not have approved. That said, Oxenberg’s approach I think succeeds, and succeeds startling well at that. His understanding of language raises up Jewish and Christian traditions to a connective level of philosophical symbolism. His coverage includes the iconic stories within Genesis, as well as the biblical Jesus Christ. His analysis of the Christ as messiah and the appellations of the Son of Man used by Christ himself and the Son of God used by the Christian faithful hit the mark. The human spirit seems to transfigure into the Spirit of God, a oneness more often acknowledged by mystics, traditional Buddhism, and other eastern religions.

Oxenberg makes no claim for Christian exclusivism, but he does argue for the “existential disposition” of Christ’s revealed teachings. The Spirit of Christ becomes for Oxenberg a mode of Being-in–the–World that gives the slip to the proponents of existentialism (Jean-Paul Sartre, Camus, et al) and seeks the goodness of love and community. Religious beliefs for Oxenberg seem to merge in a rarified metaphorical and transcendent, but no less real philosophic, realm. Paul Tillich, Thomas Merton and others have followed similar lines of reasoned mysticism. Keep in mind that Aristotle identified contemplation as the highest form of happiness. In any case, Oxenberg is in good company.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Memoirist/Poet George Ellenbogen: A Montreal native son talks about his coming of age as a writer in the Jewish section of the city in the 40s and 50s.

I talked with  George Ellenbogen on my Somerville Media Center Show--Poet to Poet/to Writer to Writer-- about his new memoir of childhood and adolescence, "A Stone in my Shoe: In Search of Neighborhood"

Doug Holder: What essentially were the pros and cons of living in a close knit Jewish community in Montreal during the 40s and 50s?

George Ellenbogen:  Well--it was in a sense it was a homogeneous neighborhood. The street I lived on--only one family was not Jewish. The high school that I went to had 1100 kids, probably not more than a half-dozen were Jewish. In essence it was a ghetto. I suppose growing up in a culture like that there is a certain cultural deprivation from the rest of the world. Living in Montreal was like living in a tugboat between an English man-of-war  and a French man- of- war.

Though--it was very comforting in a way. My grandmother , cousins, etc... were a block or two away. There was a sense of familiarity. And of course there were Jews from different parts of Europe-- Russia, France, the Baltic, etc... When I left my immediate neighborhood to go to McGill  University to get my undergraduate degree it was like going to a strange country without any passport. It was very unreal for a Jewish kid from a cloistered community.

DH:  You told me you knew the famed poet/singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen. Cohen grew up in Montreal and went to McGill.

GE:  Yes Cohen was at McGill. He had a number of books in the McGill Poetry Series. The last time I saw him was in Montreal--1959. I told him I was going to England. He said, " Send me your address--I am going there too." I eventually saw him in London. We sat on a street curb and just talked until 3 AM. Later he went to Haifa and I never saw him again. I think Cohen was the most talented poet to come out of Canada. His first book was wonderful. I didn't know him when he became a cultural icon. His songs didn't grab me. But in his early poems there was great music to his writing. You would have to go back to Ben Johnson to see how incredible he was.
DH:  I did my thesis on food in the literature of Henry Roth. I traced the assimilation of Roth's protagonist in his novel " Call it Sleep" by the food he ate.  Food maybe viewed by some as trivial. But you include a lot of it in your memoir.

GE: Of course food is the community glue. I remember an aunt of mine said I was a "long noodle" and I would never amount to much. But look--food is essential to every culture. It is a picture of people sitting around a table a table sharing things that they like---it could be called a centerpiece of celebration. When I went to the larger world of McGill- I ate the food of the gentile world--ham, bacon...it was sort of symbolic of the world citizen I was about to be become.

The Scottish Book of the Dead A novel by Gavin Broom

Gavin Broom

The Scottish Book of the Dead
A novel by Gavin Broom
Island City Publishing LLC
Review by Timothy Gager

If you’re Elisabeth Kübler-Ross you’ve had a widely accepted theory about the five stages of death and dying. If you are the author, Gavin Broom, your characters get to experience two of them, (maybe three, without giving away the ending) the denial stage and the anger stage. In The Scottish Book of the Dead, a father dies and it brings a dysfunctional family together in one location to deal with his death, and to pick up the pieces of their own lives. These characters, the son, the runaway ex-wife, the brother, and the sister-in-law all must address their shortcomings and their past, while attempting to close a chapter with someone else’s.

In humanity, we all deal with death in different ways, whether it’s diving into side projects (needing to clean out the person’s belongings immediately), quitting a job, or traveling across the world to see a son you’ve not seen in an eternity. Truth is that when someone close dies, each of us die a little ourselves. Broom takes us through this in short, stunning chapters, and in four distinct varied sections. He presents the insanity, real or imagined of the physical and mental world during a pivotal life event. Broom strikes a chord using various writing techniques which show that things aren’t what they look like or appear to be. Often, when a family member dies, people can go a bit crazy, but as you read through the layers of The Scottish Book of the Dead, the world as we know it, also, doesn’t seem based in reality. Author, Broom, allows us to wrestle with the metaphysics of this, but then often, the reality becomes a metaphor, and/or the metaphor becomes the reality. For example, when an earthquake hits, opening up a large crack in the ground, son Adam throws an item of his dead father into the bottomless hole. Later this same item re-appears back at the father’s house. We understand that this empty hole, is the wound, and emptiness, we feel when we lose someone. By using this technique, he puts the reader in a familiar emotional place, a place many of us have been who have attended at an actual funeral, where the feelings of displacement, combined with the lack of sleep from the night before gives off a surreal kind of vibe. In fact, many of the characters, in the different sections have gone on without much sleep for large periods of time, thus changing their mental statuses.

The author, born in Scotland, captures Scottish dialect within the novel. Though this may be distracting for some, it creates authenticity within the text. The sound of the pages are just one of the layers of this multi-layered book. The questioning of reality, and of grieving is another. Perhaps there are more stages of death Kübler-Ross has ignored, which author Broom gives us front row seats to---the stages of guilt and obligation. This is shown again, and again, the characters continuing on, overcoming these stages, only to arrive at a decent emotional place by the end of the book. The Scottish Book of the Dead, is not light reading, but there is enough humor, magic, and philosophy mixed in to not bury us in a giant hole of sadness.