Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Ibbetson Street Press--celebrates almost twenty years on the literary scene --with its new release!

Hello, Friends/ Poet Friends,


Since 1998, when it was founded at a Bruegers Bagel Shop in Porter Square Cambridge, by Doug Holder, Richard Wilhelm, and Dianne Robitaille, the Ibbetson Street Press has published chapbooks, perfect bound books of poetry, and 41 issues of the literary magazine Ibbetson Street. Over the years the press and magazine have published work by Marge Piercy, Ted Kooser, Afaa Michael Weaver, Kathleen Spivack, Jean Valentine, Cornelius Eady, Richard Hoffman, Jennifer Matthews and many others. The press is now formally affiliated with Endicott College of Beverly, Mass. Join us for a gathering and reading--July 5, 2017--to celebrate its almost 20 years on the Boston area literary scene.

  The Ibbetson Street #41 Potluck and Reading will be held on Wednesday, July 5th at the central branch of the Somerville Library, Highland Avenue (next to the high school).  The Potluck will be held from 6:00 P.M. to 7:00 P.M.; the reading will be from 7:00 to 8:15. 
              Very Warmly,
                    Harris Gardner
                    Poetry Editor
                    Doug Holder
                    Ibbetson Street Press

To order Ibbetson Street Books and magazines go to

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Narratives of Transformative Love-- a new project by Prema Bangera

( Painting by Prema Bangera--click on to enlarge)

Narratives of Transformative Love:  ( A program that is in the making by Prema Bangera, executive director of Teen Voices Emerging in Boston-- Bangera will be my guest today on Poet to Poet Writer to Writer.  See it live at 5:30 PM  June 20  at  Bangera writes:

"Our mission is on identifying and breaking down internalized oppression to recreate a positive and true self-image. We believe in using art and writing to address past traumas, judgements, negative criticisms, and societal expectations in order to heal and transform our identity to reflect our strengths and develop self-love. We aim to empower people by giving them a voice to articulate their true identity in their own words and visions in order to create a personal and an institutional change". 

Monday, June 19, 2017

At the Bloc 11 Cafe with Tori Weston: Somerville Writer, Printmaker, Essayist, Educator

Tori Weston

At the Bloc 11 Cafe with Tori Weston: Somerville Writer, Printmaker, Essayist, Educator

by Doug Holder artist

Multi-talented artist and writer Tori Weston dropped by my usual table at the Bloc 11 Cafe in Union Square. We were there to talk about her creative work. Tori, is a thoughtful woman, with an easy smile, and seemed to be somewhere in her early 40s.

Weston—originally from Rhode Island—moved to Somerville from Cambridge, Ma. And she has lived here for 12 years. She told me that she loves the Somerville arts community and has participated in the Open Studio events both as a participant and volunteer. She said, “ Somerville is an easy place to connect with people.”

Weston got her MFA from Emerson College in Boston. There—she counts as her mentors—Senior Writers in Residence, Richard Hoffman and Margot Livesey. As for Hoffman, Weston said, “ Richard started each class with a poem. He intensively reviews the work that is submitted to him. He made sure we were all 'ready' to write our stories-- both from the personal aspect and the audience's perspective. He always discusses the impact the story will have on the audience.”

As for the Scottish novelist Margot Livesey, Weston offered an anecdote, “ Once in class a white student said that my characters did not sound 'black.' Livesey asked the student, ' What do you think a black character should sound like?' The white student had no answer. Livesey focused on the writing—not whether the writer was black or not. I appreciated that.”

This Somerville writer is a painter as well. She studied independently—taking classes at the Museum School. She also studied with a Somerville artist Carolyn Musket, who owns the Musket Studios on Cedar Street. Weston told me that she is currently engaged with litho printmaking. She said that this process uses an aluminum plate or stone, where an image is cast in ink. Weston reflected, “ The process is like writing. Things can end up very differently than what you started out with.” Weston told me about one print she completed called, “ City Girls.” In her depiction the girls wear hoodies. “ The simple act of wearing a hoodie transforms the traditional idea of femininity. When girls wear hoodies—there is certain grit or confidence about them. You own yourself more.”

Weston told me about a print of hers that was displayed at the Open Studios. It depicted the bodies of black women. Inside the bodies were were negative stereotypical words associated with black women, like: “Mammy,” “ Brown Sugar”, etc... But on the outside the bodies have hopeful words, like, “ Soul Sister, “ Classy, “ “ Mother of Civilization,” etc...

Weston writes personal essays as well—one of which was published in the online magazine, “Sleet.” The essay dealt with her own childhood abuse. Weston paused, “ It took me three years to write it it. It is hard to make people understand the trauma of this kind of thing.”

Weston works at Emerson College in Boston. She runs a pre-college program for high school students. The program teaches kids acting, theater, film making, etc... Weston was inspired to start this program at Emerson from a program she was in years ago at Brown University. She said, “ it opened up my world.”

Undoubtedly Weston open up more worlds for kids and adults—through her writing and art.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

From Doo-Wop to Hip-Hop: Interview with two generations of African- American Poets: Afaa Michael Weaver and Major Jackson

( Afaa Michael Weaver ( Left) Major Jackson ( Right))

From Doo-Wop to Hip-Hop: Interview with two generations of African-
American Poets: Afaa Michael Weaver and Major Jackson  ( 2009)
By Doug Holder

Afaa Michael Weaver, 58 and Major Jackson, 40 are two major African American poets from two different generations, but they both continually feed from their shared heritage, and the continuum of the Black experience in America. Weaver, a professor of English at Simmons College in Boston, a recent Pushcart Prize winner, and the author the critically acclaimed poetry collection: “ Plum Flower Dance” (U/Pitt), and Major Jackson, the author of “Hoops,” an asst. professor at the University of Vermont and a core faculty member at the Bennington Writing Seminars, met for a filmed discussion at the Somerville Community Access TV studios. The show was moderated by GloriaMindock (Cervena Barva Press) and produced by Doug Holder (Ibbetson St.Press).

Weaver started off the discussion by going back to his native Baltimore in 1970. This was a time when he dropped out of the university, got a job at a steel mill, and started to pen his seminal poems. Later he joined the military,married his first wife,but was destined to live a radically different life than his early years indicated.
Jackson was born in Philadelphia, and studied to be an accountant. He got an internship in which he was spending up to 80 hours a week with spreadsheets. After college he worked at an arts center in the city in the role of finance manager. He said: ” I was happy when I was fired.” He had taken some poetry courses in college, and he started to program poetry events at the center. He soon realized it was the arts that touched him spiritually, and he eventually made poetry a part of his everyday life.

Weaver talked of his early days in East Baltimore in the 50’s and 60’s. He sort of free- associated about mowing grass with push lawnmowers and the rituals of his youth, like using toothbrushes to clean his shoes before a night out on the town. Weaver said: “Baltimore was a very Southern city. We weren’t allowed to shop in the stores in downtown Baltimore—the line between black and white were clearly drawn.”

Weaver said his father’s family was from Southern farming stock, and his dad had the philosophy that “ Children should she be seen not heard.” Weaver learned to become an “isolated” learner, he recollected. In 1963 he was bused to a white school, which caused a great deal of anxiety for the young poet. It was hard to be in a place where he was not welcomed. He was always glad and relieved to be back on his own side of town. At the time his scope of experience was limited. He thought the whole world was Black. Weaver laughed: “I watched “ Leave it to Beaver,” and thought that family was just like mine, except they were white.”

Jackson said even though Philadelphia was north of Baltimore, it still possessed a Southern sensibility. This was confirmed when he spent his summers in Nashville, Tennessee as a boy and he experienced the same “rhythms” as the South.

Jackson described himself as a hyper-aware kid. He was tuned in to the music and the culture of the time. Hip- Hop started to appear in 1978-82, and drugs started appearing in the mix. There was a potent combination of rich culture and tragic lives. He sadly watched the erosion of his neighborhood over the years.

Jackson’s work is informed by his observations of people trying to survive under extreme stress. Anything that cuts humans down, be it in an urban or rural setting, will find room in his work, he said. All in all Jackson is grateful to have grown up in Philadelphia. He had an appreciation of the speech, jargon, and music of the milieu.

Jackson reflected on his neighborhood:” People all knew each other. The guy at the corner drug store and the drug dealer on the corner.” Jackson knew who to avoid and who could act as a role model.

Weaver brought the discussion back to the pivotal year 1968. This was the year Martin Luther King was assassinated. Weaver’s younger siblings were born in 1969 and 1973. He said he was able to see the effect the legacy of those years had on them, and how it changed them. Weaver vividly remembers his mother crying like a proverbial baby when MLK was shot. Weaver went further back to the 1965 riots in Baltimore. He remembered the intrusion of the National Guard in his neighborhood. He can recall whites roaming the streets looking for blacks to beat up. He remembers hearing gunfire from his two- story row house. Weaver said:” It was horrifying. The cities never recovered from the 60’s—and later they became plagued by drugs. The post-industrial era brought the loss of blue-collar jobs. Crime flooded the community.”

Weaver reminisced about the downfall of Milton Ave, where he grew up. Blockbusting tactics by real estate developers drove whites out. The patterns of parenting changed. There were more divorced parents. The old family structure fell. More men of color were incarcerated.

Weaver eventually left the steel mill and worked for Proctor& Gamble. Once,while driving to work he took a route down Milton Ave. with a friend and saw a man shot down dead. This really hit home as to how the times had changed.

Jackson said that music had a decided influence on him and his work. On one hand he celebrates the music of Elvis, but realizes the roots of Rock’n Roll is with the Blues, which was African-American music. He was introduced to black history by an aunt who gave him a history book that traced the long list of accomplishments of the black race through the centuries. He learned about celebrated African Americans like Robert Hayden, poets Gwendolyn Brooks,Langston Hughes as well others. He also loved the music of the 60’s like James Brown and his anthem of a song “I’m black and I’m proud.”

Weaver said the “big book” when he was growing up was the bible. He had a recent discussion with the poet James Tate, who also touted the influence of the “good book.” Later his mother bought encyclopedias from the supermarket for 25 cents a piece. As for the Blues, it came naturally. The cadence of his father’s speech was very Blues- like, Weaver said. Weaver loved the Temptations, The Supremes, The Impressions and other groups of the era. He wore highbrow collars, there was “ a soundtrack to my life” he smiled. Hip-Hop hit the scene when he was 30 or so, so he was able to appreciate it.

Weaver talked about the changes in the culture due to the turmoil in the cities. He said the parlance of the Black man changed. The language used was of the type that would not be tolerated years before. The Civil Rights Movement opened up what was an essentially insular black society. From this instability came Gangsta Rap, and the idolization of the drug culture.

Jackson, through his elders, was exposed to the music of the 60’s. He used to listen to a radio show hosted by “Butterball” that played that genre of music. Books were ubiquitous in his household. His grandmother built a sprawling library in the home from used books that she bought. Literature was important. His stepfather’s sister worked at the Philadelphia Museum of Art,and Jackson recollected: “ I made it my playground” He had the images of Duchamp, Lichtenstein, and others seared into his nascent consciousness.

His grandfather had a deep appreciation for African-American music, and his grandmother loved Gospel. He got to see the great vibraphonist Lionel Hampton with his grandfather. He had a piano in his house, and he too had a soundtrack to his life.

Jackson said the avant-garde musician Sun Ra lived a few blocks away in Germantown. He said: “: You could hear his group play—unlike anything I heard before. It was free jazz, a big band sound, way outside the norm.”Jackson said he appreciated Sun Ra’s journey, a man who created this mythology of the musician as an alien being. Both poets agreed that mythology that artists like Sun Ra draped around themselves was a reaction to a world that rejected them and made them suffer. Sun Ra, and others of his ilk didn’t want to be part of a society such as this, and in effect divorced themselves from it.

Finally both men talked of mentors. And it was clear without mentors these men’s lives would be quite different. Weaver defines a mentor as” A friend who reserves the right to tell you what to do.” Jackson mentioned Amiri Baraka and Sonia Sanchez as well as Weaver, as major influences in his writing life. 
Weaver talked about the poet Lucille Clifton who advised him to read X.J.Kennedy’s “Introduction to Poetry” and gently criticized and encouraged his fledgling attempts at poetry. Both men are now in positions to give something back, and they do it as teachers, and in other roles. And hopefully, new generations will flow back and forth and nurture each other, like they have with Afaa Michael Weaver and Major Jackson.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Sunday Poet: Llyn Clague

  Llyn Clague's  poems have been published widely, including in Atlanta Review, Wisconsin Review, California Quarterly, Main Street Rag, The Avalon Literary Review, Ibbetson Street, Hiram Poetry Review, and other print and online magazines. His seventh book, Hard-Edged and Childlike, was published by Main Street Rag in 2014. Visit


A pair of kayakers, rhythmic and silent,
slide by, graceful and smooth as ducks
directly below my perch on a bench
on a boulder at the edge of the lake.

In irregular arcs and eights
the birds glide, go suddenly topsy-
turvy; with small splashes pop
up, smugly smacking their lips.

High on the upstroke, paddle tips
shoot sparks, drip last tears
back into mother lake; drop and slip
under, propelling their riders.

In passing, the man and the woman,
raising fingertips high in the air,
give me companionable waves,
noiseless ripples in their wake.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

NOON UNTIL NIGHT by Richard Hoffman

Richard Hoffman


NOON UNTIL NIGHT by Richard Hoffman ( Barrow Street Press $16.95)

Review by Doug Holder

When I read the poetry collection “Noon Until Night” by Richard Hoffman, I said to myself, “Damn, this is one wise dude.” I think Hoffman has a way of reporting back to us through his own scars, displaying the bullshit we will encounter, and then he tells us in an avuncular way, “ Move on.”

Hoffman is a Senior Writer in Residence at Emerson College in Boston, the author of two memoirs and several collections of poetry. I will be teaching his harrowing and artistically rendered memoir of childhood abuse “ Half the House” at Endicott College this fall.

I think to a great extent we try to figure out the puzzle of our fathers in order to understand ourselves. In the poem, “ A Face in the Ceiling”, Hoffman pens a wonderful paragraph (among others)—a scene-- a set-- that captures the complexities, the sorrows of a father, and his need and attempt for transcendence. And there is a boy beside him who intuitively senses this, and tries to bring him out of his malaise,

as he was in my earliest memories, home
from “ the steel” where he laid track in the yards,
sprawled on the floor of the living room, spent,
in his boxer shorts in front of an oscillating fan
that dinged at intervals at some point in its sweep
( I swear I can hear it now. I can hear it!)
I lay next to him, and he asked if I could see
the faces in the cracked and water-stained ceiling.

And in his title poem, “Noon Until Night”, Hoffman gives a sort of road map for life. It is for those on the first half of the roller coaster ride-- all the way to where that fat lady is about to sing her swan song.

One of us is going to have to rise and set out, then,
with no assurance of arrival, nor of any welcome
if we make it there where we guessed the new to be,

just like the old days, in leaky boats, through storms
toward a hunch, toward what we've been told of by others
whose credibility is vouched for only by their scars

and the cohesion and agreement of their stories, though
we know they're not beyond a bit of fun at our expense
and always want to be remunerated for intelligence,

so we have to weigh, still, the tone, the spirit if you will,
with which of course is offered to us, at the same time
we have everything to lose, friends, and no time to waste.

Hoffman is able to find joy and consolation a midst the carnage of this world .He tells us to seize the is comically and inevitably short. In some ways this book is a primer for life, that can be referred to as you pass through its dangerous shoals.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Ron Israel: Bringing the art of Protest Songs to the Paris of New England

Ron Israel: Bringing the art of protest songs to the Paris of New England

By Doug Holder

I met singer/songwriter Ron Israel at the Bloc 11 Cafe in Union Square. Although I was unable to secure my usual seat in the back of the bustling cafe, I did manage to get a window seat in the front for our interview. Israel is a man of a certain age, with an elfin and inquisitve look about him. He proved to be contemplative and deliberative in our conversation.

Israel told me that he wanted to talk about an event he is organizing that will take place at the Somerville Arts Armory titled, “The Art of the Protest Song.” It will take place July 2, at 7PM. All the proceeds from the concert will go to the Mass. Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Center.

The performers will be Sarah Lee Guthrie, the granddaughter of Woody Guthrie, folksinger David Roth, noted poet and performer Regie Gibson, and the Clave &Blues Band—a jazz influenced Cuban group.

Israel has an interesting background. He identifies himself as a folksinger even though he feels the term may be antiquated. He revealed in an interview, “ I am fortunate to have had my music blessed by the many folks who attend my shows, and by a number of people I admire in the 'music business,' like the late Columbia Records producer John Hammond, Sr. , Richie Havens, Stephen Davis of Rolling Stone magazine, Susan Stamberg of National Public Radio, etc...

Israel has long been a practitioner of the Protest Song, which he considers an art—rather than just a rant about politics. He traces his influences back to Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, Pete Seegar and others. He feels that there has long been a dormancy of politically-conscious music, but he feels it is reviving-- spurred on by the ascent of Donald Trump.

Israel's latest CD is titled, “ Homeless in America: Blues and Protest Songs in an Era of Trump.” Israel reflected on his latest release, “ I've been motivated by the divisive path that the new administration is taking.”

Although Israel has been involved in music for many years—he has been long involved in work that addresses the needs of developing nations. It is evident that Israel is someone who firmly believes that protest music can bring change and he is going to bring it back home to Somerville, Ma.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Sunday Poet: Bridget Galway

Poet Bridget Galway

Bridget Seley-Galway, an artist/poet, has exhibited throughout New England, and can also be seen on the Spanish Island Ibiza’s web site. Her poetry has been printed in Provincetown Magazine 2009-2010,Bagel Bards Anthology 2009-2012, and Popt Art 2011-2012. Her art has been presented in 1985 Artist Magazine, 1991 The Review Cape Cod Arts and Antiques, 2005 Cape Arts Review, and picked for the covers of Bagel Bards Anthology #5, Ibbetson Street Press #26-#30.

Son’s Light

In this mid day coming;
The great newness of joy,
Swaddled your being
Nestled in my arms.

Your small hands touch my cheek,
With the sweet scent
Of the lost natal sea.

My heart rests,
In the smile this bliss creates.
In contrast my soul cries,
Be perfect for this perfection.

A Star’s light,
From whose dust we are made,
Twinkles from your gray blue eyes, and
Offers up a long ago memory,
Of Angels, now ever present,
Define this forever Holy Day.

Written for my Blake

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Somerville Novelist Randy Ross Didn't Need an Agent

Randy Ross

Somerville Novelist Randy Ross Didn't Need an Agent

By Doug Holder

  Somerville writer Randy Ross didn't need an agent because he sold his book on his own to a willing publisher.  The novel, “God Bless Cambodia” reached fruition through a long and arduous process. Ross, a man lingering on the cusp of 60, met me at the Bloc 11 cafe on a rainy, late spring morning. Ross is resplendently bald ( like yours truly) and has a lot of nervous energy and a quirky sense of humor.

Ross had a long road to publication—it took him seven years. The book, " God Bless Cambodia,” which Ross describes as a travel/literary/mystery was sent out to agents that Ross met at Grub Street (a literary center based in Boston). He wound up sending the book out to well over 100 agents and when that did not produce the desired results he sent it to a number of small presses. It was picked up by a small press in Long Island, N.Y.--run by a couple in their 80s.

Ross—for many years worked as an editor at PC World—but he quit that to pursue his writing and performance career. He had a sort of early version of “ God Bless Cambodia”-- a chapbook of sorts--- “ The Chronic Single's Handbook.” It was developed into a one man play—which he has performed at various fringe festivals, including the iconic one in Scotland. In preparation for this venture Ross took acting lessons to perfect his craft.

The “Chronic Single's Handbook” is based on Ross' travels in Asia after he quit his job at PC World. It came from his posts on his blog, “ Kvetching.” Ross told me, “The story basically dealt with my travels in Asia after I quit my job of many years. The character is looking for love—(or at the very least to get laid) and hopes for some kind of change. Unfortunately he comes back very disillusioned.”

Ross said he still performs around the country, and from time to time he lectures about the ins and outs of getting published. Now and then Ross teaches memoir writing. I asked him what are the essentials of writing a good memoir. He stated, “ A memoir is similar to fiction. You need a plot—not your whole life story—but an event or series of events that are interesting or revealing. Also standard elements are dialogue, good characterization, and some sort of theme.”

Ross has lived in Somerville since 1999. He likes the city—but said a number of his friends had to move out because the high rents of apartments, as well as exorbitant  home and condo prices. He also reflected, “ I'm not young and hip anymore—and that seems to be the prevalent vibe in the city.”

Ross has no regrets about leaving his high paying job at PC World. He lives on his savings—has taken the occasional consulting gig and lives frugally. He is in the process of writing a second book that deals, as he describes it as the dilemma of  “ men as victims.” He told me “ It starts out at a poetry reading at Whole Foods. It is about an angry middle aged white man taking a stand for—well--middle aged white men.”

Ross told me he has upcoming engagements at Timothy Gager's Dire Reader Series in Cambridge, at Duck Village in Somerville's Aeronaut Brewing Company, and Porter Square Books..  Go to Ross' website for more information.