Monday, May 04, 2015

Fame Written on Water and Engraved in Stone: John Keats by Karen Alkalay-Gut

Photo by  Ezra Gut

**** My friend Professor Emerita  Karen Alkalay -Gut (Tel Aviv University) has kindly sent me a series of articles about poets and their graves that she recently completed. She has accompanied each article with photos--I hope to add more--as I have time. I became acquainted with her work when I was a guest and judge for Voices Israel. I had the pleasure to lecture and run workshops in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and elsewhere.

Fame Written on Water and Engraved in Stone: John Keats

By  Karen Alkalay -Gut

John Keats is most probably the most popular poet in the English language, and for almost 200 years his grave has been the most visited of any English poet.  However, his life and death were far from poetic and his grave, perhaps the first to become a site for pilgrims, was designed by him to be totally anonymous. 

When Keats was 21, in 1817, when his poetic career was beginning to bloom, Keats was full of promise and optimism.  He had decided to give up his very successful medical studies for a career of poetry. Even the negative criticism he received for being one of the first of the English poets to be lacking a traditional education in the classics at an appropriate university did not seem to deter him.  He was reaching far beyond the contemporary concept of poetry, and his irregular background and his original imagination in conceiving the definition of poetry, allowed him to imagine a different future for poetry – his own as well as that of poetry in general.  His poems showed the promise of something eternal.

From this first optimism, the way to his sad grave in the non-Catholic cemetery in Rome was swift and direct.  At the age of twenty-five, impoverished, far from home and far from his beloved Fanny Brawne, Keats died in terrible and extended agonies in his exiled flat on the Plaza de Espagna.
Perhaps some of his agonies might have been postponed, alleviated, and redirected had he chosen a different path, a different friend or different doctors, or at least different legal counsel.

But he was ultimately alone and powerless in his decisions.  Orphaned at an early age, first by his father when he was nine and then by his mother when he was fourteen, Keats seemed on the way to recovering from his misfortunes when he  successfully completed his license in Apothecary and was on his way to becoming a surgeon.  The poetic muse that overtook him might have also found a niche in his life had he known there were two accounts held for him until his 21st birthday totaling almost 9 thousand pounds (now worth almost 400,000 pounds today).  He could have easily sustained himself as a full-time poet, instead of struggling to stay out of debt.  (But neither his guardian nor his mother’s lawyer mentioned the money to him). Keats’ final will to his friends contained instructions to pay back his debts to them, and if there was money left over, to pay his tailor.  Except for books, there were no worldly goods.  So his choice to completely abandon his medical career for a life of poetry was one of conscious  (and unnecessary) poverty.  Yet poverty and consumption suited the image of the poet.  Shelly wrote to Keats the year before, “This consumption is a disease particularly fond of people who write such good verses as you have done…”

Perhaps had he been more of a doctor and less of a poet, he might have been more active in seeking remission.  One wonders whether the best doctors or the best sanitariums might have prolonged his life, or at least eased his descent into an agonized death.  But when he coughed his first blood in London he recognized the fate of his mother and his brother, and did not seek a more innovative cure.
Had he not listened to his physicians and left England for Rome for what he knew was a futile attempt at improving his health, it may be he would not have died as quickly and as painfully  as he did.  His doctor and his friend in Rome, Joseph Severn, seemed to love him to death.  At first Dr. James Clark, his Roman-British physician, diagnosed him with "mental exertion."  Later Clark understood it was tuberculosis and prescribed a daily diet of one anchovy and a piece of bread, accompanied by frequent bleedings. 

Had Keats been accompanied by a more experienced nurse, and not just his friend, Joseph Severn, who happened to be available and willing, but extremely uninformed about nursing, he may have had an easier time of it.  Severn, a successful painter with a sunny and optimistic personality, followed the Doctor’s instructions carefully, but seems to have been at a loss as to how to take care of him.  Although he washed him, read to him, changed his clothes, and painted and wrote about Keats, he refused to hand over the laudanum Keats had purchased before he left England, fearing Keats would use it to commit suicide. Had Severn followed Keats’ instructions, the laudanum may have eased the cough and slowed down the destruction of his lungs.  It certainly would have eased his way into death.

Perhaps Keats’ worst mistake was in relinquishing his love.  In romantic fiction the boy gets the girl; in the real-life story of John Keats and Fanny Brawne there was no such happy ending. Although they were secretly engaged, Keats' inability to support Brawne and his ill health meant the relationship was doomed. By the time the poet arrived in Rome Keats was filled with regrets at their parting. "I should have had her when I was in health," he wrote in one letter to a friend, "and I should have remained well." Too weak to read her letters in Rome, he asked that they be placed in his shroud near his heart.

Fortunately, what Keats called his “posthumous existence” lasted only a few months after his arrival, John Keats died in Rome on the night of February 23 of 1821. The funeral procession of half a dozen friends bearing his wasted body left from his apartment in the Piazza di Spagna, and arrived at dawn where he was buried in the corner of the pastoral non-catholic cemetery. 

But the true romance in the story was not that he would die, but that he would leave nothing physical behind him, and, in this manner would ascend into eternity.  He would become ‘pure’ art.  Perhaps he had in mind his Grecian urn in which the lovers are forever in the perfect moment when they are about to kiss.  Perhaps he had in mind the ending of his poem, “The Eve of St. Agnes” where love cannot be fulfilled in life, but the lovers themselves manage to escape the real world of pain and hatred, and rise beyond the world of transience.  In so many of his poems he was separating from life even before he knew he was dying, and in Rome, when it was clear he would not recover, wrote,  I have an habitual feeling of my real life having past, and that I am leading a posthumous existence"
Because the desire to transcend life, to transform the self into pure art seems to be the goal of many of Keats’ final poems, it is not surprising that Keats asked that his grave would carry the inscription, “Here lies one whose name was writ on water." 

This inscription is not modesty but a kind of perfection.  In February of 1818 Keats had written about the aims of poetry to John Reynolds, “How beautiful are the retired flowers! how would they lose their beauty were they to throng into the highway crying out, ‘admire me I am a violet! dote upon me I am a primrose! “  Perfect beauty is distilled into its pure form, Keats thought.  This concept is explained further in a letter to Richard Woodhouse on October 27, of the same year.  He speaks about what he calls, “the poetical Character”  it is not itself - it has no self - it is every thing and nothing - It has no character…A Poet is the most unpoetical of any thing in existence; because he has no Identity - he is continually in for - and filling some other Body - The Sun, the Moon, the Sea and Men and Women who are creatures of impulse are poetical and have about them an unchangeable attribute - the poet has none; no identity - he is certainly the most unpoetical of all God's Creatures.”
Percy Bysche Shelley understood this.  In the elegy he wrote only seven weeks after Keats’ death, “Adonais,” Shelley wrote:

       Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep,
       He hath awaken'd from the dream of life;
       'Tis we, who lost in stormy visions, keep
       With phantoms an unprofitable strife,
       And in mad trance, strike with our spirit's knife
       Invulnerable nothings. We decay
       Like corpses in a charnel; fear and grief
       Convulse us and consume us day by day,
And cold hopes swarm like worms within our living clay.

Although Shelley had not been to Keats’ grave, he had been at the cemetery months before, when his own infant son was laid there to rest, a few feet away from where Keats would be buried. But the instructions of Shelley to go to the cemetery at Rome helped to begin a pilgrimage that hasn’t ended.
Joseph Severn knew there would be visitors at the grave and struggled with the instructions Keats had given him to leave his name off the tombstone.  Severn had visited the cemetery before Keats died and pleased the poet with the report that it was a beautiful spot, covered with violets and visited by sheep and shepherds, a perfect poetic place to disappear.  But Severn was an artist who believed in success, and had himself just won a great prize before he took on the role of nurse to Keats, and was hoping on this trip to win a Royal Academy traveling fellowship. (He succeeded in this, and other awards, including the British Consulship to Rome). After Keats’ death it was impossible for Severn to release his charge to such anonymity.  Having raised the funds for Keats’ monument, in the winter of 1823, Severn and Keats’ friend Charles Brown placed their addition that would mediate the devastating lines. "This Grave / contains all that was Mortal / of a / YOUNG ENGLISH POET / Who / on his Death Bed,/ in the Bitterness of his Heart / at the Malicious Power of his Enemies / Desired / these Words to be / engraven on his Tomb Stone: / Here lies One / Whose Name was writ in Water./ 24 February 1821." The date is accurate by Roman standards, who would count the days from evening to evening, but the rest was Brown’s idea, and seemed not only to mediate Keats’ longed-for lines but to minimize the poet’s personality.  Lord Byron noted that discrepancy between the great poet and the petty epitaph:

'Tis strange the mind, that very fiery particle
Should let itself be snuffed out by an article.
(canto 2, stanza 60)

The reason for Severn and Brown’s intervention was the universal disdain of Keats and his work, and Severn soon began hearing that his critics were adding to “here lies one whose name was write in water” the phrase “and his works in milk and water…”  The result of this intervention, however, was to help transform Keats from a relatively unknown poet to the emblematic Romantic Poet.  Severn’s numerous paintings, books and letters concerning Keats’ dying, including one painted in the year of Severn’s death, 1879, helped to keep Keats’ legend alive. 

Shelley’s “Adonais” may have initiated the concept of pilgrimage to the graves with the lines
       Or go to Rome, which is the sepulchre,
       Oh, not of him, but of our joy: 'tis nought
       That ages, empires and religions there
       Lie buried in the ravage they have wrought;
       For such as he can lend—they borrow not
       Glory from those who made the world their prey;
       And he is gather'd to the kings of thought
       Who wag'd contention with their time's decay,
And of the past are all that cannot pass away.

       Go thou to Rome—at once the Paradise,
       The grave, the city, and the wilderness;
       And where its wrecks like shatter'd mountains rise,
       And flowering weeds, and fragrant copses dress
       The bones of Desolation's nakedness
       Pass, till the spirit of the spot shall lead
       Thy footsteps to a slope of green access
       Where, like an infant's smile, over the dead
A light of laughing flowers along the grass is spread;

But it was Severn who made the grave one not of transcendence but of tragedy, a tragedy that later poets identified with. 

Any visitor to Keats’ grave cannot help but note the fact that Joseph Severn also makes his own presence known.  Like a fan who becomes famous by being photographed with a star, Severn seems to be everywhere in the picture.  The tiny grave of Severn’s son, placed strategically next to Keats’ notes: Here Also Are Interred/the remains of/Arthur Severn/the infant son of/Joseph Severn who was born 22, Nov 1836 and accidentally killed /13 July 1837. The poet Wordsworth was present at his baptism in Rome.”  The well-loved eight-month old infant had died in his crib in a terrible accident that shattered the family, but his grave highlights the important christening guest.  Moreover, the grave is placed in a perfect position just behind and between the matching graves of Keats and Severn, who died 58 years after Keats.  The appearance is of a family, even though Severn was a happy husband and father with many children. Severn’s grave, which matches that of Keats’ poetic lyre (apparently requested by Keats) with the emblem of an artist, is careful to add the details necessary to promote the grave of Keats as well as himself.  It reads: To the memory of Joseph Severn/Devoted friend and deathbed companion /of/John Keats/Whom he lived to see/Numbered among/The immortal poets of England//And artist eminent for his representations /Of Italian life and literature/British Counsel at Rome from 1861-1872/And officer of the Crown of Italy/In recognition of his services/To freedom and Humanity/Died 3 August 1879, age 8.

 On the back of Severn’s grave is the list of distinguished sponsors for the gravesite.   Severn was to remain in Rome for twenty years, become the center of the English community and a well-connected man in his own right.  His friends included John Ruskin, Walter Scott, William Wordsworth, John Turner, Samuel Palmer, Leigh Hunt, Mary Shelley, and he also enjoyed a rich family life. Nevertheless Severn always acknowledged, “I owe almost everything to him, my best friends as well as my artistic prosperity, my general happiness as well as my best inspirations.”  Keats’ career owes a great deal to Severn as well.

"A Man's Life of any worth is a continual allegory--and very few eyes can see the Mystery of his life," wrote Keats to his brother George in the spring of 1819, as if forseeing the ways in which the understanding of his life and death would change according to the viewer. 

Resting near the very visible pyramid of Caius Cestius, Keats’ grave is easily found, and a plaster plaque on the wall as well as a bench with lines of Keats’ poem makes this place a quiet and meditative sanctuary for tourists.  In the coming years almost every significant poet would visit his grave and write a poem about it.  Keats’ grave has become the place to identify the anonymity of a poet’s life, the fears of being forgotten as a poet, as well as mortality.
It was Severn who enabled Keats to fulfill the destiny he had asked for in his sonnet, “On Sitting Down to Read King Lear Once Again,” “But when I am consumed in the fire,/  give me new phoenix wings to fly to my desire.”

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Scenes from an Adultery by Ronan Noone Directed by Bridget Kathleen O’Leary New Repertory Theatre

Scenes from an Adultery
 by Ronan Noone
Directed by Bridget Kathleen O’Leary
New Repertory Theatre

It seems impossible that anyone could come up with a fresh take on adultery, the subject of uncountable short stories, novels, movies, television shows, and plays. But how about a play on adultery where the adulterous couple never appears on stage? By focusing on the collateral damage that adultery has on the friends of those who stray, Irish playwright Ronan Noone (now on the theatre department faculty at Boston University) does give us something new to think about.

It’s probably more accurate to say friends who may have strayed, because for a good part of Scenes from an Adultery we’re not quite certain who in the couple in question, Dean and Corrine, has actually done what. All we hear are what little the characters—Tony (Peter Stray), his best friend Gasper (Cirian Crawford), and his wife Lisa (Leda Uberbacher), all 40-somethings—have seen or heard, and what they have or haven’t told each other about what they’ve seen and heard. In fact, if the title weren’t already taken, the play could have been called Secrets and Lies.

It all starts with Gasper telling Tony that he saw Corrine cozying up to a man not her husband in the park. They discuss whether or not she’s really having an affair and if they should tell Dean, who is their good friend—in fact, the three of them usually meet each week at the pub, but Dean has been out of sorts lately, so the question is whether or not Dean suspects his wife is having an affair.

Back home, Tony chooses not to tell Lisa about what Gasper saw, because Corrine is a friend of hers, but eventually Lisa worms it out of Tony and accuses him of keeping secrets from her. The discussion that ensues about what information couples should and shouldn’t share with each other pretty well encapsulates the theme of the play—and forces us to think about where we stand on whether or not married couples and close friends should or shouldn’t share everything with one another.

From this point on, things get more and more complicated. All three of the characters struggle with whether or not to tell Dean and Corrine what they know—or think they know—complicating those friendships. When Gasper shares information with Tony that he insists Tony not tell Lisa—who is also his friend—Tony is unable to do it, so Gasper retaliates by telling Lisa something Tony doesn’t want her to know, tossing a bomb in the middle of their relationship. Eventually, Lisa also confronts Corrine, and her story complicates matters further.

Suffice it to say that nobody comes out of this one unscathed. The play has many funny moments, although I was never quite sure if it was supposed to be a comedy. I also wouldn’t describe it as a serious play with funny moments. It’s an odd hybrid, which made it difficult to know how to react sometimes. The play also doesn’t go terribly deep into its subject. The friend with whom I attended the play described the plot as one that would make a good TV show, something you might happen upon, watch, be mildly interested in, and then forget immediately.

That said, I was certainly never bored by the play (although I did get a little tired of Tony’s over-the-top reactions to things, which the director might have reined in a bit). The relationships among the three are convincing, and the way they twist themselves up over who should be told what about whom, about when to tell the truth and when to hold things back, is entertaining. If you don’t go expecting an evening of deep examination of relationships, you’ll probably have a good time, because this really is a new take on adultery, and the playwright deserves credit for pulling it off.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Endicott Poets: Dan Sklar, Doug Holder, Paige Shippie and Michael Goodwin at the Walnut Street Cafe in Lynn, May 6 7PM

Click on Pic to enlarge 

Airstream, by Audrey Henderson

Airstream, by Audrey Henderson

Homebound Press, 2014 $16.95

Review by Denise Provost

The cover of Audrey Henderson’s first published collection of poetry, Airstream, speaks of motion – the bulbous aluminum trailer halfway passed; metallic surface of a distant lake, clouds and light moving into sunset formation. The poems within take the reader on as fine a set of journeys as can be fitted between an opening and final line. Airstream seems to defy the laws of physics – like Dr. Who’s Tardis, the poems in this book are bigger on the inside than one would guess from their modest physical proportions.

The book is divided into three sections - with, tellingly, geographic names. The first, “Finisterre,” is filled primarily with poems about quests. These are propelled by the varied personal motivations or exigencies that send individuals out to visit – or settle upon – various lands’ ends.

We meet Mr. Peterson, of Field Guide fame, for whom, “there’d be too many/ questions for an old man/ with a suitcase full of flowers….” The Lichen Lovers, we learn,
…met with blank stares mostly
            as we crisscrossed America
looking for clean air.
            You corrected book text on your
            sick bed as we reminisced
            about tundra—how I shot the lichen
            through a cloud of mosquitoes
            while you beat the air with a glove—

St. Kilda Sunday makes reference to a Scottish island so remote that, when it was ultimately evacuated in 1930, its inhabitants reportedly did not know that Queen Victoria had died. Its narrator muses that Jesus “seems kind/ although he forbids us/ to tend our animals/ on Sunday….” It’s a poem that measures the distance between the pre-Christian past and its transition to the age following it. Similarly, The Elders Lament describes a world “[a]fter the monks arrived,” where

[t]he elders grew silent, fearing in their hearts that no-one
would carve the stones that tether the sky to the land,
or burnish mirrors where people see their faces in the stars.

One truly breathtaking poem is Lammermore, with its dazzling compression of time and distance. It tells a three-generation family story between lines of conversation with a neighborhood grocer who happens to be an opera fan:
            Tony’s butcher shop is pristine—jars of tomato paste
            Along a shelf, jaunty cans of Pastene, the whole place
            Painted red and white to go with the meat. A sign in magic
            Marker on the cash register says bacalao $8.99 a pound.
            I ask him how to cook it.  When it comes out I’m from
Scotland he hands me a CD of Lucia de Lammermoor,
A picture of Italian men in kilts on stage at La Scala….

For me to reveal any more of this tale’s details and digressions would require a spoiler alert.

The second section, “The Continent and the Levant,” offers a mixed assortment of meditations: on paintings and artists; on art historians (like the one in The Tempest, “listing to one side
like a monument about/to topple, his expression blissful,”); poets, and other characters; some of whom have perhaps stepped out of paintings. The Baptist, the eponymous John, roasts locusts “on a makeshift hearth/ and hastily/ getting wings in his teeth—“The Shepherds,” one realizes, are those drawn to the nativity of Jesus, seen from Mary’s point of view: “crude and toothless. They stank/ and hoarded cheese in their pockets….”

Behind these schemes, there are also places, so full of personality that they asset themselves off the page, and into timelessness. In Hacksilber, one such location reveals its magic, both hidden and revealed:

            She brought all her suitors there
            to see if they went with the scenery – the castle,
            a river, the valley where the swan sleeps…

            They ran on it as children in their cable sweaters
            and once a man looked out from a tower
            to which there was no staircase….

There is also National Library of Scotland, a poem so rich in detail and side observations that its perfect arc of narrative seems to encompass an entire world:

            We could have guessed the size of it because
            George IV Bridge is actually a bridge, and you can peek
over the edge beside Baumeisters, where Escher-like
eighteenth century facades recede down to the Canongate
and you can gauge the fathoms of the NLS….

“Eastern Seaboard,” the third and last section, might seem to bring us to more familiar territory. We find it, too, however, to be riddled with mystery and surprise. Simply getting ice cream at the Dari-Joy becomes a rather gothic adventure, where there are “many, many enormous black flies, mutant neon-eating flies, all over the plate glass window which/ reflects our mint chocolate chip with rainbow sprinkles….”

In Creatures and Beasts, we watch vicariously with the narrator, who observes that:

            It was a lean time, month of the hunger moon
the world run out of food, only a carcass from
            beneath the snow to be picked clean. The grass
            was flat and brown, wobbly with water, the hill
            a jelly, turned out from the mold too soon. First
            a turkey vulture came unfurling the black curtain
            of its wings like a Victorian photographer….

Even in the settled places here, there is constant movement: in Indigo Bunting, where an old man is distracted from his woes and injury: “He came into the house full of wonder and asked/could it be that he had seen an all-over blue bird.” In Fireflies, a hospital patient sees these insects for the first time:

            Flashing semaphore in the last light.
            You’re transfixed, can’t make sense of
            what you’re seeing, having no experience….

Girls.Birds  presents us with an unpromising scenario:

            I tell the delinquent girls anyway, about the warblers….
            They listen to me and talk through tongue studs,
            their lycra abdomens bulge….

Yet the description of long migrations, nests In spruce forests, and “damp leaves, yellow and pointed and tropical” pierces the feigned boredom of even this audience: “The girls smoke/ hastily, for they are defenseless against this information/ and they never suspected the world was surrounded by wings.”

If your world could use some wings, pick up a copy of Airstream, and glide away on revelations and delight.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A Newton, Mass. Writing and Publishing Center for the Diehard Somervillian

Somerville offers many opportunities for writers and other creative types. There are a plethora of writing groups and organizations where the aspiring poet and writer can hone their skills and network. But just beyond our borders, I found yet another place, the Newton Writing and Publishing Center. This nascent Center, has many writers  on its board that I have worked with and know, such as Somerville's Timothy Gager, a stalwart of the literary community. Robin Stratton, whose poetry has appeared in the Lyrical Somerville column in The Somerville Times, is the founder of the said organization, and is a force of nature in the local writing community. In addition to publishing my new lyrical memoir Portrait of an Artist as a Young Poseur... through her affiliated Big Table Publishing  press, the center will be awarding me their first Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award, with a ceremony this August.

The Newton Writing and Publishing Center will be hosting a Grand Opening on Saturday, May 9 from 1:00 – 4:00. According to Robin Stratton, director and long-time writing coach in the Boston area, “We’ll be giving workshops and putting on special literary events, but we’re so much more than that. Our affiliation with Big Table Publishing Company and Boston Literary Magazine gives writers the opportunity to explore our publishing options, too.” Stratton says she came up with the idea for the center when she had trouble finding venues to promote her clients. “For a while I was booking open mic gigs at the new Whole Foods in Wellesley, and I kept thinking There has to be a better place.” She shrugs. “But there just wasn’t. So some of my colleagues – Timothy Gager, Christopher Reilley, and Michael C. Keith (all well known in the local writing community) and I decided to start one.” Writers and poets are welcome to contact the center to set up their own readings and book launches free of charge. “And they get to keep 100% of the profits of book sales,” Stratton adds. “That’s very important to us. We’re all writers, we’re all trying to sell our books, and we designed the center to be what we’d want–a place that wouldn’t charge us for the use of their space and wouldn’t take a percentage of sales.”

So how can they do this for free? By offering a variety of membership levels for those who wish to support the center, ranging from “The John Steinbeck” ($600 a year for free admission to all their workshops, free merchandise, and a year’s subscription to Boston Literary Magazine) to “The Jack Kerouac” ($120 a year for 25% discount on all workshops.)

For all the details, please visit

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Portrait of An Artist as a Young Poseur: Boston 1973-1984 by Doug Holder

    New Release Coming This Spring from Big Table Publishing!  ( Listen to an excerpt)

    Portrait of An Artist as a Young Poseur: Boston 1973-1984 by Doug Holder( Big Table Publishing)

    Advanced Notice:

    “Doug Holder is a poet of the old city, the city of our fathers, of the 1950s and later. Mr. Holder writes poems like notes in a diary. I found myself struck by their economy, wit, and urban melancholy... He has a voice unlike that of any of his contemporaries. Holder is a poet of the street and coffeehouses, an observer of the everyday. He writes of old Marxists, security guards and his relationship to his deceased father—themes of the common life. I am drawn to these poems as I am to the poetry of Philip Levine and the prose of James T. Farrell. But Holder’s poetry is deeper than that. He sees the world not for what it is, but on his own terms. He is living in the poem rather than in poetry.”
    ~ Sam Cornish, First Boston Poet Laureate 

    “This book is a jewel; multifaceted, scintillating, and completely unique. There is not a wasted word within the covers of this printed gift... instead, a complete, complex text pointillism capturing the era and place perfectly. If you lived within a thousand miles of the scene when it was happening, you will smile more than once at the memories of things long forgotten. Do yourself a favor and buy one for a loved one's future present.”
    ~ Christopher Reilley, Breathing for Clouds and Grief Tattoos

    “Doug Holder’s Portrait of an Artist as a Young Poseur has the immediacy of film, pulling the reader in: ‘I lived in a room on the top floor ($38/week), bathroom down the hall–a stairway to the roof–cockroaches...’ The writing is pointed, unpretentious and honest, providing snapshots of rough-edged jobs and unvarnished people, places in Boston that have vanished, historical snippets on the street, in restaurants and subways. Whether he’s describing experience as a young man, or painting transience itself, the writing feels sensitive and authentic, something to read and reread.”
    ~ Nina R. Alonso, Founding Editor of Constellations Magazine

    “The echoes of Doug Holder’s footsteps are felt in this exploration of Boston and his nascent self. With reflective humor, he unfolds moments of insight amid vernal uncertainty. The vignettes are enticing, fondly resonating time and place.”
    ~ Richard Fox, Time Bomb: Poems

    “Portrait of an Artist as a Young Poseur is a unique memoir, in poetry, of a real Boston artist looking back at a distinct point in time at a city I love. The man, the city, the book are all completely unique, wonderful and original.”
    ~ Timothy Gager, The Thursday Appointments of Bill Sloan

    Doug Holder writes about the old Boston, before the city changed, before gentrification. With a knack for storytelling, he brings to life, all the characters who crossed his path from 1974-1983, while living in Boston. This book is humorous, charming and Holder’s descriptions are intriguing of city life at that time. This is a film waiting to be made.
    —Gloria Mindock, Červená Barva Press

    "What can be said of someone who has lived such a life as described in this book, where no person, place or situation is considered off-limits, where the everyday is invoked as a kind of miracle— such a person being Doug Holder: poet, teacher, publisher, editor, interviewer and advocate of writers and writing. Portrait of an Artist as a Young Poseur is a stunning read."
    Susan Tepper, author of The Merrill Diaries and From the Umberplatzen

Monday, April 27, 2015

A Life of Celebration: Sidewalk Sam Memorial May 17th

Click on to enlarge
For Sidewalk Sam
So many brushstrokes
perhaps a purple flourish
across the stolid
unforgiving asphalt.
His paint dripping
from yogurt cups.
He brushed off
the gum,
the discarded cigarette,
the tumbleweed of newspapers,
for beneath
he saw a canvas.
He needed to feel his brush
where so many pounded
the pavement.
The poseur,
the pundit,
the plaudit,
the pol,
the stumblebums,
the flash-in-the- pan.
All those men
in gray flannel suits,
the women in
their Delman heels.
The dead drunk
perhaps falling
on his art
after a sucker punch
or a child staring
down in wonderment.
The mayoral smile of Kevin White
a reproduction of a European master,
perhaps someone will stop to look
as our world spins faster and faster.

----- Doug Holder (First appeared in Oddball Magazine)

Sunday, April 26, 2015

X.J. Kennedy and Diana Der-Hovanessian: “A Uniqueness That Hasn’t Been” (A Recent Reading at Endicott College)

X. J. Kennedy
Dianna Der-Hovanessian

X.J. Kennedy and Diana Der-Hovanessian:
“A Uniqueness That Hasn’t Been”

By Emily Pineau

“Words are not lifeless. They live in houses,” read poet and translator Diana Der-Hovanessian at Endicott College, as part of the Ibbetson Street Press/Endicott College Visiting Author Series.  Der-Hovanessian has been building houses for words ever since one of her editors asked her to translate Armenian poetry. Not knowing Armenian well enough to comfortably do translations, Diana studied Armenian at Harvard and Boston University, and sought help from friends and poets. She is now the author of 25 books of poetry and translations. Der-Hovanessian is an inspiration for poets, writers, and anyone learning a new language. She has “brought a new soul” to both Armenian and English with her translations, and has touched the souls of her readers.

Following Diana’s reading, X.J. Kennedy, children’s author, poet, and translator, took the stage. He said, “When you are writing a poem you have to pretend you are Jesus Christ and can do no wrong.” It was evident right away that he has just the right mix of humor and sensitivity in his personality to create a timeless voice in his work.  From his poem, “You Touch Me,” he read, “You touch me and each cell of my body, one at a time, a hearth comes on.” Deep, concrete images and feelings are revealed quickly in his poems, and they have the power to stay you.

“Poems have to be concise whether they are long or short,” Kennedy explains. It is clear that he follows this philosophy in his own work, because each line of his has the ability to speak volumes alone. In a poem Kennedy wrote about he and his wife going to The Guinness World Records, my favorite line is when he says, “A uniqueness that hasn't been.” Even in just this short phrase, there seems to be a whole story written here. This quality is especially important in children’s poetry because children are engaged by vivid images and strong emotions created in a short space of time. Kennedy’s poems also have a musical quality to them, because of the smooth sounding words in each line. In fact, Kennedy sang after he read his poems. “I have to sing my songs, because if I didn't, who would?” he explained. Though, the truth is that Kennedy’s words of wisdom, his poems (both children’s and otherwise), and his spirit, move the soul to want to do just that—sing.


--- Emily Pineau will be graduating from Endicott College this May ( 2015). She is the author of No Need to Speak ( Ibbetson Street Press/Endicott College Visiting Author Series) and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.