Thursday, November 19, 2020

Poem from the Covid battlefield: The Empty Covid Octopus by Julia Kanno


Julia Kanno writes:

I am the mother of two amazing  young men ages 27 and 17. I am from Appalachia and Botswana. I am an artist and also work in healthcare, I have self published with my co-pilot levin pfeuffer two books of prose"a storm is cuming" and "The hardest helmut." My first reading was done at Northeastern University and since then I have read at the Somerville Armory two times. I consider myself an introverted artist/writer. I give birth to my works including those that have been displayed at the Decordova Museum as well as Howard University and local gems such ast he Middle East and Out of the Blue gallery. I will be published in Tell magazine featuring my textiles and art in the spring.  Currently, I am studying behavioral science and psychology because there is a need for more people of color to be there for people of color to help end the stigma of seeking mental health.




Tubes dance from ventilators
Infected dancing
Octopus tails.
They, the infected warriors,
 stare out the window
With help from I
To look below from window
 see the soaked
drenched, devastated
 and confused faces
Of loved ones below.
Independence is robbed
Wheeled to the toilet by I
 and robbed of privacy by I
Using instructed body mechanics
To rotate and give comfort and not
to degrade a human
 and i am soooo sorry
 as I humbly
Wipe the
Or even red black
 mud excrement
From the crease of your
Emptying your foley
Is an honor
The smell bothers me no more
Because I am thrilled that your body
And your kidneys
Are connecting.

Freedom from the vent during the day is like finding inner truth
Santa Clause
Or even the north star
Or getting a great deal on
You are still not you nor will you be
You are in a place
That I would sell my soul to not to be in.
This place is where

you are still isolated in a room with a glass window

And a speaker video system
Hooked to the machine at night
That keeps you alive
While the trachea and breathing tubes
Rob your speech
And sleep
And all you have are memories of
The before

Cooking dinner for the kids
Teaching a classroom of students with wide eyes
Building houses
Being behind a mahogany bar as a bartender hearing sweet and ugly
 drunken truths.

You forget the feel of real clothes
Fresh cotton, wool, silk and even fucking polyester

The air smacking your open ass in your new uniform
your johnny
So weary and weak

You don't bother to cover yourself anymore.
Because of this you must eat baby food again
 have to learn to chew again and
Without dying

while you crave the beef stew that
 your beloved made with a side of rye bread.
We people like I become your new family because you cannot see
that grandchild
 with the red curls
And pink lips
And upturned nose
Or that beautiful ebony little girl
That your daughter tried so hard to have
And she looks
Just like you
And your wife
That died 79 days ago from this beast.
 Without u
That would not exist
Without your sperm
 legacy and you.
The halls as you learn to walk again no longer smell like death
Or shit
Or putrid urine
Because you have been there so long
These halls now
smell like home.
After seven  months
And after put into a medically induced coma
And turned upside down
In a diaper
And rotated like a rotisserie human  the whole time
A human will
Reverted back to infancy
In rehab
You have come so far
You sit up on you own but weak and learn
About how life went on..
 Your son got discharged from the military
Your youngest daughter got eloped to that guy you never liked
Your first granddaughter died from leukemia
Your wife had a biopsy and started preparing divorce papers because
the idea of being a caregiver
 was all too much
The house you built went up for sale because of the medical bills
And your eldest son killed himself
In his garage
With a tube in his mouth
Looking at pictures of you.
cause he thought you wouldn't live
 and he
Loved you
That much.
After rehab because of I
And doctors and staff and the team
And because you fought to make it
For them
And you know nothing
Because you were not to be upset
And keep in mind we never knew the progression of these deviations
because we were focused on you.
You are wheeled out
On a Wednesday
At 3:45

Staff like I with balloons and music
We dressed you as you wished
Dress shoes and real underwear and no diapers
And a dress shirt
Teal green
 and even a tie
Red with flowers

And pleated pants
And brown shoes
You tied your own laces
And you wanted me to untie them again to show your family
That you can do it
How you could do it.
As we open the sliding doors
The blast of organic earth and fresh air hit your face
 we have ten balloons
And you look amazing and so happy
And we wait
And wait
And there is not
One person.
But a housekeeping person
That says
"You made it man"
You clench your jaw
I clench my rage
And send you into the abyss.

To listen to the poem go to:

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

“the whole, lovely, kit n’caboodle” A Review of Elizabeth Gordon McKim's Lovers in the Free Fall


“the whole, lovely, kit n’caboodle”

A Review of Elizabeth Gordon McKim Lovers in the Free Fall, Leapfrog Press, Freedonia, NY, 2020

They don’t call Elizabeth McKim, aka e/liz, the Jazz Poet of Lynn for nothing. The 3 R’s she so skillfully employs aren’t the ‘reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmatic’ we learned in grade school. Hers are rhyme, repetition, rhythm. Listen to them as in HEY DANGER she insouciantly calls “Come on in/We’re waitin’ for this dance to begin….” repeating her invitation

So come on in darlin’

And rev up my engine

Some call it poetry

Some call it legend”

It’s poetry, the vernacular diction of ‘rev’ mixed with the unexpected formality of ‘legend’ with its slant rhyme ‘engine’.  In The show down is soon is a dance of her embodied voice, urgent and strong, as she rollicks

The hour is late

The music is blue

The rhythm is fate

The deceptive simplicity of the short lines lets the craft in her repetition and rhyme, the music in her assonance seduce us and our bodies move with hers because in her jazz poetry the insistent ‘rhythm is fate’.

McKim is fascinated with the way words fit together, hide inside each other, create sound variations and echoes. Consider just this section ofthe poem MOTION/COMMOTION

I like to mosey

You like to mill

You like to rumble

I like to spill

I like to gallivant

You like to gamble

I like to sally forth

You like to ramble

Her use of words like ‘mosey’, ‘gallivant’, ‘sally forth’ gives the poeman old-fashioned ambience. The back and forth of ‘You’ and ‘I’ has a playful, rocking rhythm. Triplets like ‘rumble’, ‘gamble’, ‘ramble’, change only one vowel or one initial consonant out of three; again word play. But the prize goes to ‘sally’ hiding in ‘gallivant’.

The book’s title, Lovers in the Free Fall, indicates two large, interconnected areas. The Free Fall could be everywhere we are, where we roam, boundless, unexpected happenings, destinations, endless possibilities. Many of McKim’s poems are about movement with images of roads, highways, cars, trains, freeways, their subject matter less playful, their lines longer, their shape sometimes formal as in the sestina REFUGEES. These poems about migrants, refugees, point to desperate situations and, no matter when initially written, are relevant to current issues. Some of the wanderers are persons from McKim’s life experience, like Dave who wants to get out of cold, wintry Lynn and head for Flagstaff. But then Odysseus, as seen by his long-suffering wife Penelope who sings the blues, shows up, as do other mythic characters whose travels land them in places they didn’t want to be--Icarus, Persephone.

McKim presents dire situations and does not shrink from misery’struth. While honest about suffering, fear, loss, unfulfilled longings,her mantra, as presented in her DEDICATION, is ‘No despair/no despair/ no despair’. Human misery neither obliterates nordominates her acceptance of life’s yo-yo fullness. She’s one of the lovers in the free fall; like them she has ‘slapped down and wised up/Wised up slappedslapped down’.

Like her wanderers, her range is wide, not only in subject matter, butalso in her poetic craft. From the oral tradition, she chants, sings a ballad; from European formal patterns, creates a sestina; from her own musicality performs jazz. Consider the pulse, lineation, eccentric word choice of the opening lines of CALL

You can call me cormorant

And I will call you stranger

You can call me consonant

And I will call you danger

Contrast it with the shaped arc, the deliberately irregular length and placement of lines on the page, the imagery drawn consistently and narratively from nature in her contemporary lyric STAND STILL

Coming to a stand-


a heron


and observant


lost light

into land’s end

translates autumn air

into silence




wanton and wild

golden rod suddenly nods

harbor seals

disappear and dip





tossed in the hollow


in the shallows



a one legged

stand still

The dancerly movement on the page is McKim’s transfer of motionfrom the rhythm of sound to pictorially shaped image. We can feel the heron’s leg as a rod holding the center of the poem from top to bottom. Her title might be a private pun, a tease to her jazz poems, or her need to do that.

As the poet is in the free fall with all of us, so she is also one of the lovers. She speaks most often ‘in the numinous luminous name of love’ Sometimes she speaks from ‘these blazing discs of memory’ of her parents, her sisters,of those gone from life, but never from her memory, and of those still in her life and precious.

Some of her love poems present an intensity of intimacy, her language simple, direct and so strong we can feel it in our own bodies. From ‘the cusp/ of loving’ in WATCH

I watch you

from up-

side/ the head

from water-

bed, ……………..


from when you look at me

from when I look at you


I want to know the sound of your steps

In the city where you survive

I want to know how you breathe


We love strongly

We come as guests

And we don’t know when to leave

and, finally, from the beginning and the ending of IF I ASK

If I ask you to come home

Will you? ………………

………………….I will go

Anywhere you are going.

Wherever you go, take Lovers in the Free Fall with you.

***Karen Klein poet/dancer, founder of teXtmoVes poetry/dance collaborative, former member Prometheus Dance Elders Ensemble, retired faculty English,Humanities. Women’s Studies. Brandeis University

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Doug Holder Interviews Literary Outlaw Alan Kaufman

Thea Paneth: An Artist who paints her life, and paints to live.


Thea Paneth is one of the many talented artists I have interviewed for The Somerville Times. And like many she works hard to make the daily nut and continue to produce evocative painting and photographs. I caught up with her recently.....

Somerville has been described as the '"Paris of New England" because of all the creative stuff going on. You have been here a long time. How have you seen things evolve or devolve in our city?

I have known Somerville to be a creative mecca - hundreds of artists and musicians thrive here.  Over my decades in the ‘ville, it has become a younger city.  I’ve seen a lot of changes, certainly Davis Square has changed a lot. I still miss the Supreme Deli, where I used to see the mayor all the time back in the 1980’s. I love the Burren, great music (was) happening there all the time.  Housing is ever more expensive, and I worry that when the GLX comes in, a lot of artists will be priced out or our studio buildings will be turned into housing.  There is such a need for housing near public transportation, but the real estate goes up in value and that has consequences for artist communities.  

You have written that "I paint my life."  Do you paint to live?

So it seems.  I found long ago that if I went any length of time without doing artwork, I would feel very low. Whenever I worked on a painting, I immediately felt lighter and as if I could breathe better.  Realizing that was big, and then I had to figure out how I was going to live in terms of it, by continuing to make art.  Sometimes the realization is absolutely staggering - I’ve managed to eke out a living, raise a child, and keep doing my art.  It’s day by day and all of a sudden, the years add up.   

You are known for evocative paintings of nature. But you are much more than that. For instance, you have a portrait series of folk/rock musicians that includes Patti Smith, Bonnie Raitt, and others. Did you ever have a subject pose for you, or do you work from photographs of the individuals?

I spent a number of years drawing and painting from life, from models, so that hand-eye training forms the foundation for all the work I do.  My mom drew and painted, one of her teachers would tell her class “Go for the model,” and she’d talk about it.  As I grew up, I interpreted “go for the model" to mean seek the essence of any subject whether I paint a person, a tree, a still life, a landscape. I ask myself why I want to paint it, and then my job becomes bringing the sensibility forward, whatever it is, into an evocative work, that is my own.  

I work from many photographs of public figures, so any portrait painting is composed of a number of different photographs.  I listen to music all the time, specifically WUMB 91.9 out at UMass Boston.  The music is the best, the announcers are all wonderful, they all have so much knowledge about the music and interesting stories that they share on the air.  Over the years I began to incorporate my love for folk music and an admiration for iconographic musicians into a number of paintings.  Some are portraits, some are visual representations of a line from the song which becomes the title of the work.  

When you do a portrait, I am sure you try to capture the subject's essence. Could you talk a bit about your process?

There is always something magical about creative work. There is the quiet space of the studio, the blank canvas in front of me, the relationship I have with my materials. I use palette knives a lot to move paint around on a canvas, small width sable brushes and paper towels, I try very hard to let my hands take over and not have my conscious or dictatorial mind oversee or analyze  what I’m doing as I work.  The time for evaluation comes later.  I step back from the canvas and look at it carefully in a non-judgmental way, but trying to see what might pop out at me in a way I don’t like, or an area of the work that maybe is not as realized as another area.   In this way, I find a work comes to life in as free as way as I am able to achieve, through me, but not controlled by me or my conscious mind thinking it out.  

I do research into a subject, getting books out of the library, seeing films about the subject. For paintings that spring from music, I listen to the music a lot, and let the music bring feelings out of me, down the arm, onto the canvas.  

Working on the painting Rock and Roll Women with Patti Smith, I saw that I painted her hand as if it was a claw.  That bothered me for a while, but not enough to change it.  Then she put out a new album and was interviewed on the radio so I tuned in, (I think it was the program World Cafe).  She was talking about how sometimes after playing a lot or doing a long set, her hand felt like a claw…so that was the magic.  I did not have that knowledge, but when it happened on the canvas, I let it be. It turned out to be meaningful in an unexpected way some time later.  

I have found over the years, that several things are true for me as a painter, one is no matter how many times I make a painting such as a winter tree, which are very simple-seeming paintings, each one demands its own identity on the space of a canvas and is just as hard to make as if it were the only one.  There is no formula.  

Another thing is that sometimes a painting won’t work, and I don’t know why.  I’ve found that if I set the unresolved work aside and don’t try to make it work, that often I learn something from it down the road that is quite valuable and often leads to more resolved, different work down the road.  

And of course sometimes there’s no hope at all and I paint it out and do something else.  That is important to be able to do, to let go and start over.  

There’s a great interview with John Lennon where he’s speaking about creative work and says: "start over."  Each blank canvas (or page) is starting over.  There is tremendous freedom in that, it’s yours for the taking.  

You have been involved with Somerville Open Studios for a long while. Can you briefly describe your experience?.

SOS is a great organization.  When my daughter was an infant, I heard about an Arts Council meeting to vote on whether to bring SOS into being and I made sure to get myself there to raise my hand in favor!  We organize the citywide open studios event every year, we artists, not an event company. It’s a labor of love.  Some visitors come every year. I’ve had folks in my studio tell me that SOS weekend is the best weekend of the year!  I think so too.  Artists are part of the life of the city, artists have been embraced by the community, we’ve embraced the community in return, it’s a beautiful thing.  

I’ve headed up traditional media publicity a number of times, it’s one of those chores that has to be done and it turns out people are uncomfortable about taking it on.  My philosophy is we work hard all year on our art, we work hard for months to make SOS happen, and we’ve got to get the word out!  I’m hoping to put together a team next time to pass the skills along.  

If someone was to ask you, " Why should I look at your work?" What would your answer be?

Be curious about everything.  One does not have to like everything but be open to it.  When people visit during SOS, I like to let them engage with my work so I keep to the background and just offer to answer any questions they may have, in as welcoming way as I’m able.  I have no wish to push anything on anyone.  Looking at art is a very personal thing; a viewer brings all kinds of associations and knowledge of their own that should be respected.  And, of course, there are those visitors who talk about the window in my space, and that’s ok too.  

How are you handling the Pandemic?  How has it influenced your art. Does great pain, bring great art?

The past eight months have been extremely difficult.  We had to cancel SOS, we are unsure if we will be able to hold it in 2021.  So many people have been ill and died, I’ve been especially upset about the medical people we’ve lost, all that training lost.  All this against the backdrop of government incompetence and malfeasance at the highest levels.  I’ve been hanging in and hanging on, doing the best I can, but I know we need real relief for folks across the country and I hope that we see it happen in the new year.  

I’ve been able to get to the studio most days and have found myself experimenting, doing more abstract work than usual, which is very interesting to me.  I’m lucky in that I’m working remotely at my day job and still have my health insurance.  

Does great pain bring great art - yes, but probably down the road a bit, not in the moment.  I’ve done paintings that dealt with grief and sorrow for beloveds who died, but in my experience, a creative resolution came after I lived through the worst of the crisis.