Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Ron A. Kalman author of the new poetry collection "Appearance of the Sun"

 

Ron A. Kalman, author of his first poetry collection "Appearance of the Sun" ( Main Street Rag Publishing) will be released in the coming months but can be pre-ordered now. Kalman is a graduate of Emerson College (MFA), a Somerville Bagel Bard, and has been published in numerous publication including Somerville's Ibbetson Street magazine, and the Lyrical Somerville in the Somerville Times.

Interview with John Wisiewski


 What was it like growing up in Budapest, Ron?


It’s true that my family is from Budapest, but I wasn’t actually born there. My parents fled Budapest during the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. During that year, there was a period when the borders were loosely guarded, and my parents trudged across the fields from communist controlled Hungary to Austria.


They settled in Israel, and that’s where I was born, though I don’t have any memories of that. My first memory, perhaps appropriately, is of being on a boat as we were heading to Paris. We lived in a house in the suburbs. It had a fenced in yard with lots of fruit trees, and I attended kindergarten where, as I recall, there wasn’t much playtime. I vaguely remember sitting behind a desk and studying trigonometry.


It was only a few years later that we were on the move again, this time via an ocean liner headed for the United States. One morning, my mother dragged me up on deck so I wouldn’t miss seeing the Statue of Liberty as we arrived in New York. The statue didn’t impress me much. But I was only six years old so what did I know?


We stayed in New York just long enough so that I could taste a real New York hot dog from a real New York street vendor. Then we boarded a plane and headed out to Boulder CO where my father was a physics professor at the university. There I attended first grade. Fortunately, there was a girl in my class who spoke French, and I shadowed her for the first couple months until she got sick of me. But by then I’d more or less figured out what was what and managed to survive on my own.


The following year we moved to the Boston area and that pretty much ended our global roving. Still, we continued to move from house to house and from school district to school district. I counted that by the time I reached 7th grade I’d attended 6 different schools. And, if my experiences instilled in me nothing else, it was that being observant was more than just a useful skill. It amounted to something of a survival tactic.



 When did you begin writing?


I wrote my first poem in 7th grade for an assignment, and I’m happy to report it was a big hit with both my teacher and my mother. But that pretty much ended my poetry writing for the next fifteen years. I liked reading novels much more than poetry, and in high school I started writing short stories.


After college I had no real plans and bounced around for a few years until, finally, I decided it would be a good idea to write a novel. There was nothing that I’d done up till then that would have led anyone to think I’d be successful. And, in fact, I spent a wretched year living in a moldy basement apartment in Brighton failing to put together anything even remotely coherent.


Right about then, just when I’d pretty much packed it in as far as writing was concerned, I happened to move to Harvard Square and a buddy of mine convinced me I should sign up for a poetry writing class. And Voila! I instantly felt a confidence using the poetic form that had eluded me the previous year.



 What may inspire you to write?


I don’t think that’s a constant, though I do have an aesthetic I sometimes like to follow. My poems tend to be autobiographical and outside the academic mainstream. When I was working on the novel, I’d hoped to write something that captured the immediacy and vibrancy of everyday experiences similar to what I’d found in Tropic of Cancer. When I started writing poetry, I was delighted to discover a similar type of thing going on in Frank O’Hara’s I do this I do that poems. So, when I started working on the poems that would become my chapbook Appearance of the Sun, many of the poems were based on whatever was happening at the moment.



. You have done translations as well as poetry. Could you tell us about this.


I started doing translations quite by accident. One day, my father showed me a book that used a short poem by the famous Hungarian poet Attila József as an epigraph, and I thought the translation had completely lost the essential feel of the original. So naturally, I had to try my hand at it. Since my Hungarian is not very good, I do the translations with my father and, over the years, we’ve accumulated a small bunch of translations of József’s work.


Perhaps more interesting is that my translations are very different from my own writing. József’s poems are strictly metered and rhymed.     I do the translations, and  I try to adhere to the original form as much as possible. People who look at my translations first are often surprised that my own writing looks quite different.



Could you tell us about you latest chapbook just published?


I’ve already alluded to it. It’s called Appearance of the Sun, and it’s being put out by Main Street Rag Publishing. It should be out maybe in January or February of 2021.


The collection contains poems I wrote when I first started writing poetry, and it owes much to the novel I had wanted to write before that. Some of the characters in the longer poems are characters I had wanted to put into the novel. And as for the shorter poems, I wanted for them to have an episodic feel to them even while maintaining the integrity of each poem as a separate entity. I was going for something that might approach an extended narrative in the life of the narrator.



6. You have moved to Boston later in Life. Do the people of Boston inspire you to write?


Yes, of course. I would have never written Appearance of the Sun if I hadn’t fallen in with a great group of friends and acquaintances when I moved to Harvard Square. I lived in a big apartment complex right on Mass. Ave., and I was friends with a bunch of people in the building. Every Friday night, one of them would hold a political/literary gathering in his apartment that would go on well into the early morning hours. Add to that that if I went out of for a walk, I was just as likely as not to bump into someone I knew and end up in an hour-long discussion about Nietzsche or the Beats or politics.


This all changed when rent control was abolished. Rents, of course, started to rise precipitously and that’s when I and just about everyone I knew moved out of Cambridge. And Harvard Square itself has become a shadow of its former self. Gone are most of the things I thought made it such an interesting place, the artists, the eateries, the movie theaters and countless bookstores.



. Any future plans and projects, Ron?


Thanks for the question. What writer wouldn’t want people to be interested in what he or she is working on? And I do have projects lying about in my drawer, some being closer to completion than others. But I think talking about them might be bad luck. It might take away my impetus to actually finish them.


And, John, I’d just like to add that I much appreciate the effort you put into doing this interview with me. It’s been a great experience.


To order go to:   https://mainstreetragbookstore.com/product/appearance-of-the-sun-ron-a-kalman/

Friday, October 16, 2020

Library of My Hands By Joseph Heithaus

 

Library of My Hands

By Joseph Heithaus

Dos Madres Press

www.dosmadres.com

ISBN: 978-1-948017-68-8

121 Pages


Review by Dennis Daly


Illuminated wonder. Musical sparkle. The transcendent light within everyone. These are the objects of Joseph Heithaus’ collection of intimate and ecstatic poems entitled Library of My Hands. The book reads like a revelation of family, nature, birth, and death, but always through humanity’s compassionate lens. It reminds one of Thomas Merton, or, more to the point, Merton’s mystical side. Heithaus covers poetic territory not much dissimilar from Merton, a poet in his own right, who at the corner of Fourth and Walnut streets in Louisville, Kentucky, on a shopping mission for his monastery, observed his fellow passerbys, “shining like the sun.” Merton believed he had seen the goodness and the beauty at man’s core or, perhaps, he had espied the individual hearts of his fellow travelers. Heithaus runs with a kindred metaphor of light, using his own perspectives and experiences as an approach to metaphysical or, at least, visionary phenomena.


A drama of Genesis opens this collection in three of Heithaus’ early poems, Birth of Light, Memorize, and Mother’s Blood. Descriptive cosmological words turn to the mnemonic joy of family birth and then to deeper remembrances of that birth. Listen to these marvelous lines from Mother’s Blood,


Your mother gave you this blood

that’s now become your prism

and mask, your passageway

to the sparkling places

inside yourself. Not tissue

and bone, but memory of memory,

your small fingers once over a flame

to feel the light, light

you first saw from inside

her, she’s leaning over the basket

of wet clothes on a morning

before you were born,

that’s when you opened your eyes

to amnion light, blood light,

the shadow of her spine, her body

your kaleidoscope…

Heithaus’ piece entitled Poetry thrills at the efficaciousness of said subject as well as the aesthetic miracles it surfaces. Poetry lures prizes from the unconscious depths and imbues them with unthinkable artistry. On the other hand, the poet, himself, exhibits flaws and claims no intellectual superiority. He is simply a fisherman. Heithaus explains,


Poetry is how I open

the box with the earth inside

fill it with light

so you see the bait

I bought

to put on a hook

to catch something out

of that box of water

they call a lake,

which, if I’m lucky,

we’ll launch out into

in a jon boat,

that keeled box

of air where we’ll stand

rocking and looking

at something beautiful

and wet…


Cemetery, Heithaus’ poem on abundance amidst emptiness, contrasts the despair of dark umbrellas and rain at a February funeral with considerations of wasteful glut and sun-generated bounty and hope. In the background a soldier plays taps. The poet sees continuance and exultation in the seasonal panoply of future promise and concludes his piece this way,


faces sudden from

dark umbrellas

and rain


out

of the black branches

come buds, then blossoms

then leaves, come robin-chatter

and bee-light, tulip-light

coochee-coo-light, more life-light,

bury-the-dead-and-move-on-light.


My favorite poem in this collection Heithaus titles Toll. In a way, the piece is a counter meditation to John Donne’s famous poem, For Whom the Bell Tolls. Heithause puts his emphasis on a baby’s coos, trimming the fingernails of an infant, humming a sweet tune to that infant, all things that commemorate especial moments of life. Afflictions are understood and accepted, but not lingered over. The poet tempers the bells’ heavy insistence on doom with his own sense of grace. In Heithaus’ world affliction is not to be obsessed on; any more than a reminder of death is to be obsessed on. The quiet intervals in-between, the celebrations of life—these are the real gems. The poet opines,


even

in this room with its lamplight

and pillows and coos there will be tolls

to pay, unexpected taxes, like those scenarios

we watch from the windows

of our house: divorce next door,

murder across the street,

the slow death around the block

who limps past each day on the sidewalk.

But why dwell there?

There’s no end to affliction’s treasures

no end to the tolls that hammer

out each hour, nor is there an end

to grace, the bells between the evening’s silences,

this moment here when I whisper back

to the woman I love.


About halfway through his collection Heithaus sets a section of ekphrastic poems he calls Light Studies. All of them are well done, but one of them, What’s Lit, a poetic commentary on Caravaggio’s painting The Conversion of Saul, I think is especially spectacular. The painting itself shows Saul (about to become Paul) flat on his back, defenseless. The poet sees neither Saul nor the converted Paul but the moment in between, the becoming. Saul’s horse seems to be divinity, the center of power, and he reaches toward it and the dangerous radiance it represents. The title of the poem directs our attention to light that reflects off the horses’ flank. Heithaus describes the scene as the poem opens,


muscle of the forearm, fetlock,

heel and the hand of another

soldier holding the reins,

the horse’s barrel, flank, buttock,

and you, between names, splayed

like a baby born out of the night,

the oscuro, the obscure into

the chiaro, the clear and bright,

but your head’s still in the shadow,

your left leg, the back

of your hand, your pinky obscured

by that blackness and your eyes

look closed. We know

what will happen when you

open them…


A blinding light of poetic understanding emanates from this extraordinary collection. Like Merton before him, Heithaus sees and versifies a unique and dynamic vision beyond the pedestrian perceptions of most people. His words simply astonish.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Powow River Poets Anthology II

 


The Powow River Poets 

Anthology II


Edited by Paulette Demers Turco

Introduction by Leslie Monsour

Able Muse Press, 2021


Review by William Falcetano


The Powow River poets have done it again, like lightning striking twice in the same place: they have produced a second anthology of poems that amply justifies their well-deserved reputation as highly talented versifiers and master-craftworkers of the artform.  These excellent poems are distinguished by a graceful formalism, wry humor, scorching irony, delicious whimsy, insight into, and compassion for, the vagaries of the human condition. 


There is also a distinct note of localism which brings us to such magical places as the sand dunes of Plum Island and “the sun-speckled Merrimack” in that imaginary land “North of Boston” made famous by Robert Frost, as well as more far-flung Muse-inspired locales as the lush jungles of Honduras or a secret waterfall in Colorado.  In ancient times poets haunted obscure brooks or hidden dells where they would be embraced by Muses who inspired them to sing in meters and chant in rhymes.  Such inspired formal precision is on almost every page of this remarkable volume and it reminds the reader (this reader in particular) what makes poetry poetic.  How to explain this profusion of talent?  It has been rumored that they are imbibing the Muse-infused waters of the Powow River as it meanders through the charming hamlet of Amesbury (though I’m inclined to guess it’s equally the result of hard work and years of careful reading and pain-staking writing).  


This gifted group of poets normally meets at the Newburyport Public Library, which hosts their readings. As someone who has recently found refuge on Plum Island just before the outbreak of the pandemic, I was disappointed that this happy congress was canceled - another victim of the dreaded covid-19.  In lieu of attending live readings I offered to review this new anthology - it was a labor of love which I thoroughly enjoyed. 


Apropos libraries and poetry readings I laughed when I read Alfred’ Nicol’s funny poem “Nuts”, which offers glimpses of such recognizable denizens as the old codger who won’t live long enough to read the armload of biographies he is checking out; or the “struggling poets” whose audiences find “the open mic’s a magnet for the daft”.  


Another witty poem is A.M. Juster’s “Proposed Clichés”; some examples are:


More user-friendly than a hooker

hard up for cash.


Ask not what your country can do,

for fear of the answer.


Burn the candle at both ends

if you want to wax poetic.


If you’re crazy like a fox,

get tested for rabies.


I was touched by Kyle Potvin’s “To My Children Reading My Poetry after I’m Gone”, which offers a defense of poetic license and the right of the poet to dissemble.  She advises her children, if they search for clues about their mother in her poems, beware: 


...poets play with words, ignore the truth,

manipulate” as Plath once said. A ruth-

less cutting, blending, marking up - that’s art.

Dears, best to trust what’s written in your heart.


Poetry also reveals truth through its manipulative art. Such revelations are everywhere to be found in this outstanding collection.  Pace Keats, however, truth and beauty do not always co-mingle, as Michael Cantor’s “Lament” reveals about growing old and


what it all comes down to - thoughts of shits

and weekends with the Times invade a kiss-

kiss-fuck-fuck-bang-bang mind as age submits

his calling card, engraved, upon a bone-

white plate...


In another memento mori James Najarian illustrates how the splendor of youth can suddenly be turned into something far from lovely when a frolicking frat boy meets his fate in a car crash.  Najarian, who envies “the ease of any of these guys”, first brings into focus the perfect prep school bodies of youngsters playing football in the April rain:


The lawn is a snarl of pectoral and arm

In a game I cannot play or even grasp.

However rough it seems, they mean no harm,

shoulder on shoulder in a perfect clasp

of biceps, deltoid, butt, and leather ball.


Then he hits the reader with the tragic reversal of fortune, marveling at how the frat boys are so “spendthrift with themselves, as only young men can be.” 


Another unbeautiful truth is told by Anton Yakovlev’s “Ask Anyone” which alludes the common occurrence of nighttime arrests in the USSR:


Ask anyone who lived in Soviet times.

It was at night that people went away. 

Faint blood in basements.  Vague rumors of crimes…

Quiet black Volgas gliding past stop signs. 


This anthology is also chock full of beautiful truths as well, much of it painting word portraits on landscape, seasons, gardens, and family. The editor, Paulette Demers Turco, offers two poems about her mother. In “Singer” she is depicted as a modern-day Penelope at the loom waiting for her husband to return (like Odysseus, he too is off at war) singing tunes at her Singer sewing machine. 


...her wish 

of daughters dressed by her - beyond her wish

when she took her vows on her wedding day.

While her love served in Normandy, she’d hum

soft tunes of his return - no sewing machine. 

Her trousseau was of borrowed silk and lace.

Her groom gave her a Singer. She’d teach herself. 


What is it about parents that inspires poetry?  Several poems in this collection draw upon memories of mothers or fathers. Rhina P. Espaillat, the ring-leader of this happy band of poets, offers a memory of strolling the promenade in Newburyport with her elderly mother. 

Widowed, confused, dimly aware

of who I was beside her there,

but fond of mischief, and still pretty.

She loved the river and the city. 


They are joined by 


...an old fellow bald and thin

Who gripped his cane and slipped right in…


What happens next I leave to the reader to discover - but the “mischief” made me laugh. 


There are whimsical takes on the philosophical musings of a speck of dust in Alfred Nicol’s “Old Haunt”, or the absurdities of border controls placed on the natural world in Nancy Bailey Miller’s Revisiting “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall”, in which she asks facetiously:

But why can’t we reroute the bird migration?

Insist on green cards from our waterfalls?

What monarch claims the path of butterflies 

in spring?


I have not, and cannot, do justice to this outstanding anthology, and its many fine poets, in a mere thousand words; but I’d like to reassure readers that every page of this excellent book is worth careful attention, especially if you enjoy reading well-crafted poems.


Saturday, October 10, 2020

Andrew K. Peterson’s Good Game

 

Andrew K. Peterson’s Good Game, reviewed by Gregory J. Wolos


In his poem “Ars Poetica,” Archibald Macleish concludes, “A poem should not mean/ But be.” The implication is that the poem—a poem— is an experience unto itself, and not merely a rendering of an idea or set of ideas that could be paraphrased in prose. The experience (or set of experiences) occasioned by my reading of Andrew K. Peterson’s collection of poems, Good Game, is, I must confess, largely unparaphrasable. While the poems in Good Game display pyrotechnical virtuosity in their use of imagery and structure, too often I found my engagement thwarted by tantalizing allusions that hung just out of my reach, by semantic inversions that seemed linked only to themselves, and to scattershot experiments in form that seemed intended as a kind of Rorschach test for the reader’s journey to self-discovery, but which in fact came across as frustratingly solipsistic and opaque puzzles.

Looking for an entry, a point of embarkation, I turn to the collection’s title, and then to the first poem, “The Big Game is Every Night.” Peterson’s last stanza “it’s a big game/ & the big game is every night/ a mountainous rose/ swells of diamond surfers,/ dub sparks on the moon’s hood,/ a wolf at the brim of her kind” creates a hunger that I ache to have satisfied. As vivid as are the images of the rose, the diamond surfers, the sparks on the hood of the moon, and the wolf at the brim, for me, they collide without illuminating. Ever the pragmatist, when faced with weightlessness, I search for an anchor, and, as I have advised countless students over the years, when in doubt, return to the title. What’s to be made of Peterson’s offering up of the phrase “good game”? Seeking to experience Peterson’s work to the fullest, I run through any and all associations I can make. “Good game” is a platitude generally exchanged between competitors at the conclusion of a competition. Is it possible that Peterson has regarded his readers as opponents? Or are we ruminant targets, like rhinos and buffaloes, “big game” to be rendered fit for a museum diorama at the mercy of the poet’s obscurantism? Is Peterson’s title self-congratulatory, intended to describe the collection itself as a challenge that will ultimately benefit the reader? Adjectivally speaking, when I surrender myself to a poem or collections of poems, I like to think of myself as “game”—I am generally willing to suspend or accept, if even temporarily, the epistemological frame the poet is offering through their work. If I can make sense of their rules. But I want to be a participant, not merely an observer, of the poet’s “game.” Watching pyrotechnics for the sake of watching is a two-dimensional experience—it lacks depth.

I search for anchors, for clues: Peterson offers a direction in his opening poem, suggesting that what we’re searching for is “slow going, but it is going.” So there is movement to watch for—but movement to where (and from where), and how do we recognize it? In “Poem on Joan Mitchell’s Birthday,” there is a suggestion after imagery hinting at the singer’s cover art (“wild blueberry/ when I could/in the middle of that blued & purple cinema”) that “form shatters the void/ as a knife slides off her palette.” So it seems that the decision to “make” something, i.e., to impose form, equals “art.” And what then to make of Peterson choosing to refer to Joanie Mitchell as “Joan”? Naming (or renaming) is an aggressive act—a hint of cultural imperialism. I have a brother who intentionally mispronounces the names of French actresses. To what end? To draw attention to himself? To make it clear that he is possessing these personalities in his own, unique way? But what am I to get it out of it? As with Peterson’s poems and many of the forms he chooses for them, my first feeling is that of exclusion.

But I’m in “the game,” and I’m no quitter. And, seriously, I want to play. Reading Peterson’s “Serious Moonlight,” I’m drawn to the last lines: “in the moonlight/ in the serious moonlight/ oh unserious moon.” Peterson here seems to suggest the subjectivity of interpretation—whatever we make of the moon, it exists nakedly; if we turn moonlight into “a monument to memory’s fresh dance clothes set to tremble,” as Peterson does in the poem’s opening line, it is a matter of choice. Yet before I can dive deeply into “Serious Moonlight,” I’m confronted by Peterson’s decision to “i.m.” the poem to David Bowie. A handful of poem’s in the opening section of Good Game are “i.m.-ed” to musicians and writers, all dead. Is an “instant message” a dedication? A declaration of inspiration? A tribute? Deference to or ironic condemnation of a culture lost to social media? (Full disclosure—except for Bowie, I had to Google Peterson’s other “i.m.” reciptients.)

And so the reader is taken out of the immediate experience of the poem itself, connected to (or becoming lost within) a different kind of experience that requires assistance—either we look up Peterson’s allusions, or we defer to the final pages of the volume, which list the poet’s “Notes” on several of his poems. Is the added information these notes supply meant to further our interface with the poem? Are they intended to offer us glimpses into the poet’s notebooks so we can trace the genesis of a work from its birth-idea to its completion? Are they meant to show off Peterson’s wide-ranged exploration of diverse texts? If so, is the “Notes” section intended less as an explanatory connection to the volume’s early poems and more as a separate section in and of itself, in which Peterson noisily stakes his ground as an iconoclast? What is a reader to make of a note such as Peterson’s on his “Poem for a Disappearing Roommate”: “The poem’s form—stanza length, line word count, quotation length and page location of source material—was determined by chance methodology (I-Ching consultation).”

There are several poems in Good Game, particular in an eponymous section, that suggest the movement implied in the also-eponymous introductory poem—poems that “are going.” At least the titles of these guerilla poems (guerilla poetry involves, among other things, placing poems in unusual or unexpected places or circumstances) imply action. They also, perhaps for the only occasions in this volume allow me to place my feet on solid ground for a moment. Among these titles are: “Poem Placed on the Green Monster During Law Enforcement Counterterror Practice Fenway Park June 12th 2016”; “Poem to be Dropped into Encore Boston Harbor Resort and Casino Construction Site (Failed)”; “Poem Placed BU Footbridge Over Storrow Drive Where Santos Laboy was Shot and Killed by Massachusetts State Trooper June 19th 2015”. There is vivid imagery in some of these poems; I struggled however, to connect the language of the poems themselves to the clearly political implications of the titles (especially a long segment in the “Green Monster” poem that tested my lost years of intermediate level Latin.)

Andrew K. Peterson’s poems are a festival of forms, of fecund imagery, of challenging allusiveness. The collection features: the aforementioned descriptions of guerrilla poems (the thrill of participating in such guerilla activity is somewhat neutered by reporting them on paper in conventional form: they become cold history rather than a living statement); collages of meaning presented as a midnight cloudburst; instant messages to dearly departed artists; abstruse notes that do less to illuminate the poem they are connected with than draw attention to their own obscurity. If part of Andrew K. Peterson’s goal with Good Game is to open this reader to fresh thinking by breaking down preconceptions, he has accomplished that end. Is it fair of me to question whether or not the collection hangs together when Peterson’s object might be akin to proving Yeats’s observation in “Second Coming” to be true: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold./ Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world”? Does Peterson’s collection spring from an impulse parallel to that of Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, who believed “The passion for destruction is also a creative passion”? Maybe. I can only report, for good or ill, that experiencing Good Game left me feeling as if I’d been invited to the gym to play ball, but never got picked for a team.

Somerville Poet Mark McKay / Writes a Poem A Day

  

 I have trouble writing a poem a month, at best. But everyday since 2017, Somerville poet Mark McKay has posted a poem on Instagram, and has developed a large following.  I had a chance to catch up with Mark via the Internet.

You have lived in Somerville for 2.5 years. How has it been for your creative life?

Living in Somerville has really kickstarted my creative life - at the beginning of my concerted efforts to write in 2017, I was living in the suburbs and relying on my own imagination to concoct and coax stories and poems from previous life experience. The vibrant art community and more urban setting in Somerville has changed the way I approach my craft, providing inspiration in everything from organized events, art shows, recognition of artists to the street art and ways that residents feel free to decorate the outside of their homes. Since moving to Somerville, I’ve also enrolled as a student with a painting school (Katherine Martin Widmer School of Painting) - being part of such a welcoming community and the prospect of learning a new way to express myself is one of my very favorite things. It’s so inviting and surprising every day just to walk the streets, community paths and observe the community’s active approach and appreciation of the arts.

You started a poem project on Instagram , where you have been posting a poem every day since Jan 1, 2017. What was the germ of the idea for this?

I began this project in 2016 in honor of National Poetry Month (April)- titling it “mckaystoryaday”. I have never considered myself to be a “poet” but have always engaged in correspondence and short story writing so wanted to contribute something literary to such an important celebration of the written word. I chose Instagram because I felt that words were not well represented there, that breaking up the format a bit with writing instead of photos would help my writing to be noticed. I have since found that Instagram is home to MANY poets and storytellers, a wonderful vibrant community.

My contributions in 2016 were infrequent, as I had not yet decided to make this a continuing project. Beginning in earnest on January 1, 2017, I vowed to keep it up as long as I could manage, changing my format from a fully formed “story” to conjuring images and feelings, hoping to challenge the reader to use their own imaginations to fill in those gaps...

Your poems are haiku-like--short snippets--that capture a moment in time. I also noticed you have short love poems that seem to be addressing an object of your affection. What poets have influenced you?

I have always loved the haiku form since it was presented to me in grade school English class, and through the years, I feel that reading such masters as Matsuo Basho have influenced me my whole literary life. Occasionally, I will visit and write in the traditional haiku form, I find that I reach for that form when I am in need of a calming influence - there’s just something both natural and mystical about it in my mind… I have since been introduced to many wonderful poets and poems I had missed, but honestly cannot say I have been directly influenced by them - my own words just feel they come from inspiration found reading short stories by my favorite authors like HG Wells, Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury and John Steinbeck.

As for addressing the object of my affection via the poems, I try to write with universal themes and simple scenarios that anyone can relate to - we all desire to reach the heart of someone with our art, I am no different...

Has writing become more essential to you during the pandemic?

Absolutely essential. Prior to this, I felt that I was sending these missives out as a blanket, hoping they would find a sympathetic reader. Now I feel that they are direct communications - a cry, arms opened to receive those who need, statements of intent & purpose, arrows to the hearts that need it. It also allows me to visit places and people in my mind that are not accessible during these times, a measure of much needed sanity.

You told me you started a fanzine in the 80s and 90s, which will be compiled into a book in 2021. Can you give us more details about it?

I worked in a copy shop in the late ‘80’s and was challenged by a friend to create a fanzine of the collages and short writings I had been doing while there was downtime. It was not intended to be circulated, but just as a fun project to share with the folks in the shop, but it was enjoyed and I was urged to continue. The cut and paste nature of it felt fantastic, and at the time I was discovering abstract art and particularly fascinated with the Dadaist movement from early in the century - such fertile ground! I wanted to contribute and having an outlet totally under my control was such a rush. I was able to create four issues (and many unused pieces) which became more literary-based as I went on and felt better about putting my writing in front of people. I read back over them a few years ago and did not dislike what was created so I decided to compile all the pages and write a book around it, discussing everything from the social climate at the time, my personal experiences and words of explanation for some of the more “esoteric” pieces included. Still a work in progress, but I will indeed self-publish the completed project in 2021.

You were a drummer for a number of years , then you switched to high tech. Was that because it is hard to make the daily nut as a musician?

I was deeply involved in the Boston Punk scene for a few years before deciding that there were not enough drummers to go around, so I bought myself a kit and started to teach myself to keep a beat. Some friends from High School were just breaking up their band, and I had achieved some basic proficiency so we formed a new band called Slapshot in 1985. We were able to keep this running for many years (they are still going, though I am long since retired from performing and playing) and travel extensively throughout the US, Canada and Europe, made several records and sold a few t-shirts. It was never about the money, so we always maintained day jobs to allow us to fund travel and band expenses. I’ve always loved how technology can keep people and ideas flowing, solve problems and connect us, so a career in this field was a natural fit. It’s not my passion, but I have a deep respect for the positive aspects that it can add to daily life.

Have you ever played the drum break for " Funky Drummer" by James Brown?

If you ever have the chance to check out any recordings I made with Slapshot, you will realize that - although I have a deep appreciation for music of ALL sorts - I was NOT built to be a virtuoso on my chosen instrument! So no, have never tried it (but indeed LOVE JB!).

How long will this poetry project go on, or will it never be finished?

Coming up on four years of daily writing is so much more than I hoped to accomplish and I’m driven by the positive feedback from readers which still both boggles my mind and warms my heart. There are times when it feels like a project of this length has run its course, that I have nothing more to say - but then I find a thread deep in my mind or heart that I feel encompasses everything that I am - giving me strength and resolve to continue for another day. I am trying my hand at some longer form writing, but have enjoyed this shorter format and feel very comfortable here… In short, there are no plans to stop.


9/26/2020


under dim streetlights, 

hands pushed 

deep into pockets - 

the sting of habit

the absence of purpose...

Monday, October 05, 2020

Somerville's Julia Csekö: A weaver of art and words



Interview by Doug Holder

I am a poet, so I work with my words. My canvas is a computer screen or a blank piece of paper. So I was pleased to find an artist who incorporates words into her art. Cseko, through her murals and other works confronts racism, consumerism and other vital issues head on.


DH: You moved from Brazil to Somerville--quite a contrast.  As an artist-- how has your experience differed?

JC: It is a huge contrast indeed and even though I’ve lived in Somerville for almost 10 years, you never fully get used to it, although you adapt. 


I’m from Rio, so, for starters I didn’t grow up with seasons like we have here. The low temperatures are something I still struggle with every winter. Pretty early on I learned that the Brazilian sense of humor can be a little abrasive to New Englanders and to not kiss my friends on the cheek when I greet them (not that we’d be doing a lot of that now regardless!). I do miss the warmth of my Brazilian friends and family, as well as the general festive and beach-city vibe in Rio. The tropical chic fashion, the stunning views, the late nights and incredibly fun and indescribable experience of Carnaval in the streets. 


On the flip side, Rio is an astoundingly unequal and violent city, where you have to know the no-go zones, have to be informed about ongoing turf wars around the city and have to be very aware of your surroundings all the time. As a white Brazilian I many times was perceived as a gringa, or tourist, which was quite unnerving, and quickly solved by speaking the language in the local Rio slang (and accent). 


Either way the experience of growing up hearing intense firefights near my house and ducking for cover is still vivid in my memory, and I can recognize many different types of firearms by their sound to this day. 


I do love the sense of tranquility and safety I experience living in Somerville. The concentration of higher education organizations is really something, and I never take it for granted. I live right next to Tufts, where I did my MFA, and I love the diverse and fascinating people that are attracted to this area. 


It is much easier to make plans here, perhaps because of the cold? People honor their commitments and I cannot say the same about the cariocas (people from Rio). I love the fall colors, and the flowers in the spring, which “surprise me” each year, and a sense that this is a city with the benefits of a small town and big city all at once, such as museums, concert halls, galleries, public transportation, and an international population, still it is fairly quiet, traffic is bad but not unmanageable, and it is relatively clean. I also appreciate Boston’s skyline, which is beautiful, but not overwhelming. Rio can be overwhelmingly big sometimes, and just going from here to there can be an adventure in terms of traffic and the fast pace.


DH: You incorporate the written word in your art. How do you decide to weave this element in your work?


JC:This started early in my BFA at the Federal University of Rio, probably around 2004, when I was about to graduate. The course was very hands-on and the theory was not addressing the issues I was interested in, so I did my own readings. I was fascinated by Philosophy and Poetry, and was eager to share these ideas with my fellow art majors (and anyone really). How to do that without tapping someone on the shoulder and reading to them? I decided to make paintings that would share the work of these authors on a monumental scale. Using bright colors to lure people’s attention. My desire was to create murals from the very beginning, but making public art does not come easy, so I started making paintings hoping that they would lead to public spaces. I wanted to take literary works that might be too obscure/controversial, or perhaps too dissonant to mainstream consumerist culture to the most public settings possible. Another reason to use text is a desire to let the viewers’ imagination construct their own imagery. I provide ideas, and they can illustrate them and hopefully bring them to fruition within their own internal dialog.

DH: Your works often deal with racism. In fact a mural of yours at Emerson College--
incorporated the words of the late civil rights activist John Lewis. Why did you take the words of Lewis--as there are many other texts you could have used?


JC:Whenever I work in a public space or receive a commission, my work becomes a collaborative effort. In this particular case, the work was responding to a very specific event. Earlier this year (2020) the Emerson Administration found anti-semitic and white supremacist graffiti at the Piano Row campus. They were quick to engage their community in a conversation, asking the student body how they would like to respond to the incident. The idea emerged to create a piece of art in response to the event. The Emerson Contemporary Gallery curator Leonie Bradbury put together a student advisory board and a conversation began between myself and the group to decide what text would be a good response to the hateful graffiti found on campus. I originally proposed working with a woman Jewish author, and Hanna Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism was close to being the selected text. However, on July 30th 2020, the very day we were to decide the author, Leonie sent me the essay written by John Lewis published that same morning on the NYT, on the occasion of his passing. We were both in awe, it was beautiful, it was uplifting, it was incredibly hopeful and it was a historical moment that we were witnessing. We took the essay to the student advisory board and after a brief discussion we all agreed that John Lewis was speaking loud and clear against white supremacy and all forms of bigotry as he did his whole life. It was a way to honor him and his memory, and to respond to the desire of the student body to use a text that showed hope and conveyed a message to guide us into a better future, more just, more equal, more peaceful. 


DH: The mural is titled " The Coney Island of the Mind." That's also the title of the great beat poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti's poetry collection. Were you influenced by Ferlinghetti?  Any other poets?


JC: Oh, Ferlinghetti definitely inspired the title of this series, I love his work. There is something about the beat generation poets that viscerally attracts me, a certain spontaneity, an ability to criticize openly, to think critically, look for alternatives and to perhaps search for ways to course correct, or just admit fault, admit fallibility and vulnerability. I love their call to be less rigid, more in touch with our needs, instincts and desires. We live in a time that is so conflicting. People in power are allowed to essentially behave like buffoons and criminals in the public sphere for anyone to see, while people who live paycheck to paychecks are expected to fall in line and behave. Wealth accumulation has never been so absurdly unequal globally. As a pacifist, I don’t condone looting or rioting, but I am surprised that it doesn’t happen all the time these days; people can only take so much abuse before snapping. 


Either we get to a point where we are all accountable for our actions and words, or we will get to a point when no one will be accountable. I believe that words have meaning and power, and that they should not be used lightly. We see so many words lose their meaning these days. We need to reclaim the power and meaning of words, and hold our leaders accountable to what they say. We need leaders that walk like they talk. We may be far from this right now, but I believe in course correction. It will be a long process and it starts with taking education way more seriously. We can’t form people to be a workforce, we need to form people to be citizens. We can’t expect people to vote or make good decisions when voting without having a good education. For that to happen we need social equality to sweep in simultaneously, since if you are living below the poverty line, survival becomes prioritized over education. This is a complex conversation, and we are just scratching the surface here. I hope that my work will contribute even if in the slightest way for course correction, to reclaim the power and meaning of words. I read and admire many poets, but ironically, I am back to the beats, and I am just starting to work with Diane Di Prima’s Revolutionary Letters. I realized I need more women authors in this series. After 16 years making these paintings in a non-linear way I want to be more intentional about representing a more diverse selection of authors, less Eurocentric and less patriarchal. I was shocked recently to look at my bookshelf and discover the much lower number of women/queer writers and artists on there. 


DH:Why should people view your work?

JC: I hope folks will become curious about the ideas and authors I share; I hope they will share my excitement in these ideas. As an artist I find that one of my roles is to educate myself continuously in hopes to be able to educate others. As an educator I believe that I learn from my students in the same measure that I teach them. I am hopeful that we will reach a point where the vision of Brazilian Philosopher and Educator Paulo Freire will be common sense, and that critical pedagogy will clear the way for an education and communication based in dialogue and diversity, freeing our minds and bodies from oppression.