Thursday, July 30, 2020

Somerville's Stan Eichner: A Lawyer and a Photographer with a Mission

Stan Eichner

By  Doug Holder

It was a blazing, hot day in July, but being the holy fool I am I walked from my apartment in Union Square to Davis Square to meet Stan Eichner. Eichner has an exhibit at the Inside/Out Gallery that is situated in Davis. The 'gallery' is in a storefront window--that gets a lot of traffic--perfect for a photographer who wants exposure (pardon the pun).

Eichner has lived in Somerville since 1984. When I last met him I was interviewing a group of artists in East Somerville. In that group exhibit--  sponsored by the East Somerville Main Streets program, he had an evocative photo of a snow-covered farm in Central, MA, as well as other photos exploring the theme of winter.

Eichner was a civil rights lawyer in another life. He remembers his first case in 1974--(when I was a mere sophomore at Boston University, living through the Watergate Crisis). Eichner said, " It was a race discrimination case that involved a bakery in St. Louis and an employee." He also remembered a  a police misconduct case in Boston. The police chased a suspect for 40 minutes. Finally when they caught him--they smashed the windows of his car, and dragged him out. Then they proceeded to brutally beat him. Eichner said between 17 and 20 cops were involved. The Attorney General and Eichner got an injunction to sue the officers.  In the end the police involved were given a warning by the court about severe repercussions if  they engaged in that behavior again. Eichner said, " I never heard about any misconduct from these officers after the legal action."

Eichner was stoic about today's turmoil. He said, " The more things change, the more they stay the same." I told him that a friend of mine who worked as an administrator in the penal system for many years opined that 50 percent of cops were 'bad' players.  Eichner took issue with that. He replied, "I don't agree with that. The police, like many of us, are victims of a racist culture. There are always bad actors in every part of society."

Eichner's  defines himself as a landscape photographer. He has taken workshops in Chili, Ireland, and Scotland. He counts as a mentor Betty Wiley of Cape Cod, who he has studied with. He has connected with others of his ilk in the vibrant Somerville Arts scene. He recalls being involved with folks from the Somerville Open Studios program, and felt very welcomed. Eichner said, " They were very supportive of this newbie."  Eichner, who is well into his 60s, said he did not experience any ageism among people in the community.

Eichner told me he has expanded his photography to encompass environmental themes. He said, " I want people to appreciate the beauty in this world. This might spur to do something to fight the climate crisis."

In his current exhibit he displays a number of climate protest marches in Boston and New York-- not to mention a banner drop on the Mass. Ave bridge and Storrow Drive. Eichner told me he had a leadership role with photographers at the U.N. Summit  concerning climate change. The Inside/Out exhibit also included his signature landscape photography.

Eichner said he hopes to travel to the Canadian Rockies to take pictures of Lake Louise and other bodies of water.

As the heat became more oppressive, I sort of pined to be in the Canadian Rockies. Indeed, Eichner is just one of the many of the creative folks that make Somerville, " The Paris of New England."

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Stan Eichner

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

SYMMETRY: earth and sky – Tobi Alfier

SYMMETRY: earth and sky – Tobi Alfier

Review by Mathew Paust
My curse--or maybe blessing—is that I tend to identify closer than safely comfortable with literary protagonists. I say this as a precautionary note because Tobi Alfier's poetry collection Symmetry: earth and sky has taken me through a gauntlet of ups and down and ooo's and ahh's and gasps of admiration so startling I had constantly to will my mouth shut to avoid drooling on my keyboard and electrocuting myself. This, I would proffer, may explain my admittedly uneven tone as I relate highlights of the richly amazing artistry confronting me with such impact, lifting curtains that reveal entire sagas in my imagination, it was as if, strolling through a museum of memories, I found myself time and again captured by exhibits suddenly springing to life with an immediacy that rendered me helpless to avoid becoming a part of them.
A luxury for the reader—unless he’s tasked with doing justice to the experience for potential new readers seeking the perfect poetry collection, for themselves or someone they love. The trick then is to be sparing with the samples, tease the palate with a tiny taste here and a tiny taste there and yet another and another without revealing so much of the full banquet’s promise ‘twould dull its allure.
And the venues—France, Poland, Brooklyn, New Mexico, Louisiana Bayou, honky tonk Texas, each with its own voice and spirit. You might hear Edith Piaf’s gamin voice railing in the background, sparking through the air of Honfleur as the poet confesses, "I’m tainted, shamefaced and lowbrow...I need a belt of something ill-advised, and a man to drink with me.”
Some lines strike universal chords, their mystic beauty transcending geography. “In fog, even distance seems to roam," breaks through cultural barriers in a poem dedicated to "the old country." In this instance we happen to be in Poland. Grandma "buried the woman part of her" when Grandpa died in "The City With No Vowels...ninety-three years of pierogis and mandel brot packaged, mailed, loved in countries she’d never see, at tables checkered with children she’d never meet, until that day—like the sound of a love letter torn open when no one looked—her beloved husband, our grandpa, dropped a rose petal down and came to find her."
Alfier gives us the grit and grace of people making lives in humble stations, struggling for dignity or simply peace of mind. Take Tasha, whose single mother refuses to beg or prostitute herself, setting the right example for her daughter, teaching her to love and to learn "the crass, hysterically private and bonding language of the women in the market booths, the wily but sincere language aimed at the buyers…"
Visiting a tenement in Poland, where "even the buildings wear gray...the war zone feel falls away as floor after floor creaks to life—voices seep through doorways, and tenement becomes neighborhood, the scent of coal fires and bread baking. Absolute certainty that this could have been your parent’s lives, and they learned comfort. They learned safety. They knew love. Nothing ever changes much, away from anyone’s truth."
Traditional culture slips away when our attention shifts to the New World of barmaids and drifters, treachery and heartbreak, hope, and illusions of opportunity in hardscrabble lives. A young woman about to spend time with a friend looks forward to "a day to remember the quiet goodness of daily blessings...she could get a PhD in disappointment, but no fieldwork will be done today."
Join the young lovers seeking “their na├»ve truths as the day turns dark as fairytale forests." Lines like this are precious gems that sparkle with promise of a special story in a field of others. Like this, anticipating a Friday night at the Santa Fe Saloon, "I pull my green suede boots out of a box, back of the closet, shake out the spiders, and test ‘em…they built boots to last—don’t matter if it’s cow shit or barn mud, babies, fallin’ out of a canoe, or winning at poker, boots always fit.”
Or, on the flip side, this unnamed “joyless” town where “no one grows better with age...just one foot in front of the other and then you’re dead...a place from which to send history’s most distant goodbye.”
Now a man’s voice, “mad for the woman named Alejandra...the woman who’s name has a carnival lilt, who lights my soul like the moon lights a late night in winter...” whose name he knows only because it’s pinned on her pocket. She wears “no lipstick, no ring, and she don’t even know my name.”
Then just like that we’re in Delta country, where “she ain’t gonna work...forever but they’re suckers for a forgiving face and she wears hers like mercy. At the Hollis House “the air is the color of heat and we’re up to our asses in sweat...we all sit on the porch steps, paper plates full to bending, thankful for a breeze finally stirring, banana pudding chilling in the inside fridge, half-remembered nods of thanks on everyone’s sticky smiles.” Oh, and lest we forget, there’s Ruby, who carries a knife and buys two pair of underwear once a year because “she couldn’t go commando to gym class. Otherwise she didn’t need nothing.”
Sometimes a line leaps out and grabs you with such force you take it with you and forget the rest of the poem. Here’s one“When the sky is arctic blue there is a silence, the kind that hangs in the air after a slap.”
Plenty more where those came from. The last of the bunch, Postcard to My Son, Roaming the Halls of Academia, leaves us with, “All the world gives you is an inch of open curtain—imagination sets you out into the morning light.”
Tobi Alfier is a multiple Pushcart nominated poet and Best of the Net nominated poet whose poems have appeared in… The list is long. It might be easier to name a publication, then scan the list. Chances are she’s in there