Friday, July 12, 2019

Aleef Mahmud: A resident of the Asylum brings artificial intelligence and poetry to Somerville.

Aleef Mahmud: A resident of the Asylum brings artificial intelligence and poetry to Somerville.

By Doug Holder

Aleef Mahmud, a 30ish young man, met me in the lobby of the Artisan's Asylum-- a hotbed for technology and the arts in Union Square in Somerville, Ma.

Mahmud is the founder of PROTYO, a concern that develops artificial intelligence for things like automated cars, robots, thermostats, medical devices, etc... Although he is located in Somerville-- in the Asylum, he has employees working all over the world.

Mahmud, who was previously located in Brooklyn, NY said Somerville is well-positioned for technology. Many of his customers happen to be in Cambridge, MA. “Somerville is fantastic for business, the arts and technology. People here have the skill-sets and the background for innovative work, and we are surrounded by major corporations,” he said. Mahmud continued, “I plan to always have a space in the Artisan's Asylum.

I asked Mahmud about his view of gentrification in our burg. “ It is a double-edged sword. There is a lot of displacement. Some of the artists at the Artisan's Asylum had to move from Somerville because of the high rents. They now commute. On the other hand, I feel it has brought a new vibrancy to the city.”

Mahmud told me he is the recipient of the Maritime Hero Award. This was presented to him by the U.S. Olympic Committee. It seems that Mahmud developed the technology that makes it possible for the disabled to enjoy sailing. He told me, “ I developed an exoskeleton—so a disabled sailor Richard ramos was able to compete in races. The technology is available for anyone to use for free. I want technologist to help people. I want it to make things more inclusive.”

Now—many people may have issues with artificial intelligence –but for the most part Mahmud does not. I asked Mahmud if all this technology will lead us to be at mercy of robots. He said, “ No I don't think it is going to be what we see in the movies. AI will relieve us from monotonous duties. It will be used for jobs that no one else wants, like bomb detecting, for instance. I told him that I know people with lower level jobs like cashiers have been losing their jobs because machines have replaced them. Mahmud said, “ Humans will always be in the loop. AI will make it more convenient to do what you want to do."

Mahmud came to this country from Bangladesh. His family lived in a cramped apartment in Queens, NY, and relied on food stamps.” So it stands to reason that Mahmud, who describes himself as an amateur poet, would pen work that is socially aware. It seems that this young entrepreneur in the Paris of New England is going to continue making technology and poetry that will be inclusive and with the good for broader society in mind.

Dreams of tomorrow:

dreams I hope will come tomorrow
dreams I hold close
shattered by a plane in September
dark days and sleepless nights that followed

dreams of my mother who struggled to stand
dreams of my father who begged for a hand
dreams become fears seeing my sister harassed
dreams become fears watching my brother's arrest

these dreams keep me steady
keep me ready against the night
these dreams of my mother,
my father, guiding lights of my life

dreams I hope will come tomorrow
dreams I hold close
for brighter days and safer nights
a better tomorrow for those who follow

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The Number 5 Is Always Suspect by Bob Heman and Cindy Hochman

The Number 5 Is Always Suspect
by Bob Heman & Cindy Hochman
2019 Bob Heman & Cindy Hochman
Presa Press
Rockford, MI
Softbound, 24 pages, $8
Review by Zvi A. Sesling

This book contains twenty-four sonnets by Bob Heman and Cindy Hochman. Heman was the editor of CLWN WR (formerly Clown War) and is known for his collages that have appeared in a number of poetry magazines. He was also the artist-in-residence at the Brooklyn Museum. Heman is poet who has published in numerous magazines and authored several poetry collections. Hochman is renowned as an editor of fiction and poetry as head of “100 Proof” Copyediting Services. For those who submit poetry or read it online she serves as editor-in-chief of First Literary Review–East. Additionally, she has done book reviews for a number of publications and is on the book review staff of Pedestal. Hochman is the author of three chapbooks.

When two fine poets get together in a collaboration one might think the final results would be a tug of war. But the opposite is true. One of them write a line, then the other writes so that each line is alternated between the two. The results contain humor, sometimes dark as in Poem 2.
he arrived at that place where the foghorns don’t blow

where the rocks are deeper than the sea
you can hear the sirens’ delusory call
as real as real as the horizon’s lure
but what is real in these shipwrecked days?
only the words that trickle through us
as the captain steers in blind avigation
toward the port where the sentence ends
punctuated by ballast to batten the hatches
and let the sea crawl slowly away
like rats onboard with stowaway faces
making their own siren calls
as the vessel veers north on its unsteady course
toward a horizon suddenly far too real

This poem shows how two people in their own homes emailing lines back and forth in a set order can create a poem with a touch of humor and with an unexpected dark ending. Even though the poems in this chapbook are experimental, the quality of each poem is extraordinary as if one poet alone had written experimental lines to be published.

Thirteen is supposed to bring bad luck but Poem 13 shows the humor two people can put together:

A priest, a rabbi, and a bear walk into a bar
“Are there any stars in this story?”
No, Just some whiskey with a beer chaser.
“Is the priest a rabbit?”
No. He’s a lapsed cabbage.
“Are his sermons part of the story?”
No sermons, just poetry readings and fairytales.
“Is the bear allowed to have a meaningful role?”
Indeed! No fairytale is complete without a bear.
“What about the rabbi? Will we see him again?” Oy. The rabbi is trying to find his missing “t.”
“So then he really does believe that he’s the rabbit?”
And oh dear, he’s late, he’s late.
“Is that where the story ends?”

One cannot tell who wrote which line when reading these poems. This makes the poems enjoyable. Who thought of the rabbi being a rabbit? Does it matter? The poem unleashes some absurdist humor reminiscent of some of the jokes traversing over time. It shows that two people can be in sync to write a humorous poem.

While Bob Heman and Cindy Hochman are not married to each other, their poetry engagement has produced a poetic child, a chapbook of twenty-four sonnets, each of which is a collaboration of seven lines each. To accomplish this successfully the two poets are in tune with each other when writing these verses.

Having tried a similar collaboration with a friend years ago, I found the results immature and silly. With Hochman and Heman there is a touch of the silly, but the poems are absolutely worth the read. This chapbook a worthy addition to any collection.