Monday, January 15, 2018

Boston Poet Walter Howard has passed....

Walter reading at Stone Soup---video from Chad Parenteau
Walter in the Somerville Times

Dear friends,

With her permission, I'm passing on a message from Joan Kimball, a good friend of Walter Howard. Please feel free to contact her at her email address below.

Dear Friend of Walter Howard,
                I am sad to tell you that we lost Walter today, Sunday, January 14, 2018. His brother Richard and Richard’s wife Pam called me this afternoon to let me know. After a private service, he will be buried in the family plot in Bridgewater, MA.
                I am glad that back in December he was able to enjoy the reading of his manuscript  by so many of his poetry friends.
                Also, just a week ago, Kay and I and some of Kay’s church choir sang to him while Verna held his hand and heard him sing a few notes along with us.
The book of 51 of his poems, “Walter Howard: Reflections in Moonlight,” edited by Debbie Martin and myself, to be published by Wilderness House, is almost ready to print. 
                From the book, here’s a piece toward the end of Walter's poem, “Apples of Immortality."
I am but an old harpsichord
With spine no longer steel.. 
I am but broken keys and spindly legs
A limp, faded old flag,
Father of uncertain notes. 
But I can still play
The old song
The earth sang in its youth.
    *     *     *
And we can flee! West!
West to the Garden of the Hesperides
West to the serpent-guarded gate!
West to the oasis where Christ stands!
Slay the serpent!
Storm the oasis!
Run with Christ!
Steal from the Tree of Paradise
Its apples gold!
In sorrow,

Artist Robert Goss: Recounts His Story and the Brickbottom Gallery's

Artist Robert Goss: Recounts His Story and the Brickbottom Gallery's

By Doug Holder

Robet Goss met me in the lobby of the Baker Building at the Brickbottom Gallery in Somerville, Ma. The Brickbottom is a noted artist residence, an exhibition space that has been in existence since the mid 1980s. Goss, is a 70ish man, with a full gray/white beard and a genial, folksy manner. He led me to his space, that on first impression looked a bit like a junkyard—but on closer inspection these throw away objects have come together to form Goss' art, and make a statement about his life. I walked around the space and saw disembodied plastic hands sprouting unexpectedly from the walls,  and contraptions like a record player, with a picture of a brain rotating on the turntable. There were old medical records on display, news clippings, heads of dummies staring at me with piercing eyes—all detritus that is essential to Goss' work. He walked around the space like some scholarly docent stooping and squinting at his creations.

Goss is not some isolated bohemian eccentric, but a founding member of the Brickbottom Gallery. He is an accomplished artist who has exhibited locally and nationally. He is the co-director of the Invisible Cities Group that creates large outdoor installations and performances.

Years ago Goss was living in the Fort Point Channel section of Boston—now a high end 'hood with the likes of Amazon and General Electric vying for space. In the 70s and 80s Goss was paying three dollars a foot for his space, but he and others in his community saw the writing on the wall—they knew they would be eventually displaced. So he and his band of artists, with the use of posters, regular mail, word of mouth, made a great grassroots effort to bring the Brickbottom to fruition. The building—in the hinterlands—just outside Union Square was a defunct A&P food plant—and a cold storage warehouse. There were a total of three buildings. After getting together a rather large group, this ragtag army of artists and others managed  to raise 7 million dollars from banks, donations, and the help of the Somerville Arts Council. Ross told me that the place did not look like some sleek Tribeca building. He said, “ It was a mess. Outside the building was a burnt out car, and a lot of discarded bric- a- brac. He, Lisa Bouchard (the office manager), and others worked out of a trailer.

Goss, who lives with his wife Susan, an accomplished artist who teaches at Wellesley, told me that the late Jack McLaughlin—the construction manager was an essential person, liaison, in the nascent process. Goss said, “He was able to deal with the mercurial artist and the bottom line real estate broker, equally well.”

Spaces at the Gallery were determined by a lottery, and of course people had to submit slides and a resume to show that they were serious artists. Predominately comprised of visual artist at first, the gallery now houses theater people and writers.

Goss' archival process is in the infant stages. But he hopes to have the original members of the association tell their stories. Like his collection in his space, he hopes to collect stories, photos and anecdotes, that will create a compelling narrative of this institution.

The list of artist who have lived here, and presently live here is impressive. Goss just listed a few prominent folks like Susan Schmidt, Pier Gustasson ( photography), Chris Enos( photography), but this only a grain of sand in the Sahara.

Goss has his own compelling story. He told me that he suffered a traumatic brain injury. As a result of this he suffered from a condition called, Anhedonia. This condition manifests itself with the loss of pleasure with things that usually brought you pleasure. In the case of Goss it was jazz. Goss was steeped in the jazz tradition and witnessed the “Loft” and club scene in New York in the 60s and 70s. He told me he saw Thelonius Monk play as well as Mile Davis and others. During his rehab he went through a MRI. Goss said, the rhythmic knocking, tapping, while he was in the machine, might have jump-started his brain. He remembers hearing a song by King Pleasure on the radio. And suddenly everything came back to him.

Goss is not a pretentious man. He works at his art out of his own passion and interest, and if it communicates something to people—then all the better. He alters photo images, he combines text—he brings back the archaic—and makes it contemporary. He says his art tells the story of his life. And hopefully his band of brothers and sisters will tell the fascinating history of the Brickbottom Gallery.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Sunday Poet: Tomas O'Leary

Poet Tomas O'Leary

Tomas O'Leary -- poet, translator, music-maker, singer, artist and expressive therapist -- has a volume of New & Selected Poems from Lynx House Press: "In the Wellspring of the Ear."  His previous books of poetry are "Fool at the Funeral,"  "The Devil Take a Crooked House,"  and "A Prayer for Everyone."  His poems have  been published in a wide variety of literary journals. 
    A teacher for many years — (college, high school, elementary, adult ed) — he has worked for the past couple decades with folks who have Alzheimer's, playing Irish accordion and eliciting cognitive and emotional responses through songs, stories, poems, & free-wheeling conversation.
    Tomas grew up in Somerville, a son of Irish immigrant parents, and went from there to South America in the mid-60’s as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Colombia. He unearthed the gist of “Earthquake” from a journal that lay buried 50 years.

Earthquake (Colombia, '67)

Don Chucho loaned me a nice horse
that had no name, nor had the horse
a name for me.  We anonymities
ate breakfast and set out
early one morning from the pueblo
over the  hills and far away.
Magnificent, the air, the vista,
furry clouds that rested softly
on the mountain palms beneath us,
because where we were was high.
A scary-hairy gargantuan spider
gave us pause, but we sidled round it.
My mission was to find the house
of don Miguel, campesino-in-chief,
to drink aguardiente with him and his
cohort of tillers of very steep farms,
and talk of the small school we'd build,
and eat boiled chicken and drink
more aguardiente. It's not hard
to get lost in these hills when you're just
a green gringo from Somerville, Mass.
Unsure where I was, I finally spotted
a house on a distant rise.  It was dancing
crazily, pots and pans clanging
where they hung on the veranda.  Then
the ground beneath my horse
seemed anxious to abandon us.
All credit to the horse, who said
no way, and started back, and I went with it.
Upon return I found
the town had fallen down, at least by half.
The church was gone completely, the bank
and many houses.  My horse was glad
to be free of me, though I sensed
no egregious insult.  I walked
the ruins of the town, Roncesvalles
of Tolima in Colombia, sole gringo
in this pueblo of maybe a thousand,
Peace Corps ruminant looking for work.
Struck dumb by an earthquake, plunged smartly
into rubble with the rest.

                                      --Tomas O'Leary

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Portrait of a Market and a State of Mind: Market Basket, Somerville, Ma.

Portrait of a Market and a State of Mind: Market Basket, Somerville, Ma.

By Doug Holder

When I walk through the door, I see a line of seniors sitting on chairs...a Greek Chorus of sorts--- crooning commentary on the flash of patrons who continually come through the store. There is the heavily accented cacophony, “ Paper or plastic?” There are the coupon men and women who confusingly rifle through their list of bargains, as the people who stand on line have the zombie-like-- sort of posture that would make the filmmaker George Romero proud. The deli counter is a symphony of shouts-- a friendly argument or conversation with the customers-- “ What's it gonna be, hon,?” “ Do you want the Provolone thick or thin?,” “ Not an ounce of fat on it, chief—God be my witness.” The fish mongers come out from the back, hearty, red-faced from the freezers—staring down the poker -faced fish eyes of the Red Snapper, admiring the sleek texture of an upscale piece of swordfish, even giving the lowly chowder fish its due.

There is an art to maneuver your cart here. Like any busy city street—you have to be a skilled driver. You swing and swerve, your hips swivel like a modern dancer, you make a lightning turn for those Melba Toasts-another for the treasure chest of frozen vegetables—you snap your fingers at the snap peas.

The roast chickens—pleasingly plump—their breasts straining against the plastic wrap—like, well...this is a family newspaper.

Like a deviant you clandestinely feel up an avocado, the mounds of melons, the peach with its adolescent peach fuzz.

Down the aisle— while studying a can of chili, you see a long-lost friend—that you haven't seen in 20 years. You debate whether to start a conversation—to revisit what was long put to bed-- but you just leave instead.

You eye the purchases of the person in front of you on line. You are judgmental. “ How could they eat those slabs of fatty pork,” you say to yourself. You always snicker at the folks who read the National Enquirer—but you find yourself rifling through it yourself. You feel self-righteous because you brought your own canvas bag—you gallantly turn down the plastic.

Outside the parking lot is full. The cars, like produce are crammed in their  pre-ordained spots. You get in your car and drive—because it really gets busy at five.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

The Sunday Poet: Linda Larson

Poet Linda Larson
Linda Larson has been a journalist, poet, writing teacher, and a writing student in the course of her career. One thing she likes about the role of a poet is that she gets to write about what she loves. And it is evident in her body of work that she has a deep love for her subjects and the craft of writing.

Linda Larson was born and educated in the Midwest, and spent many a childhood summer in Mississippi. She graduated with an M.A. from the Writing Seminars at John Hopkins University in 1970. While in Mississippi she worked as a feature writer for the Capitol Reporterr and The Jackson Advocate. She relocated to the Boston area and for five years she served as an editor and contributor to Spare Change News-- a homeless paper based in Cambridge. In 2007, she published her first book of poetry Washing the Stones ( Ibbetson Street Press)

Postage Due

As a child...walking in the heat,
the light ripples like antique window glass.
Heat waves don't bother children.

Up the lane and then up the hill,
I travel daily to the white frame
post office to check the mail.

Almost every day there is a letter
from Mother to take back to the house
and read in silent comfort.


There is still a satisfaction
in retrieving the mail.
A modest joy but a joy nonetheless.

Letters and postcards first, but
then brochures about travel cruises,
charitable requests, notices from museums,

alumni magazines telling me
which of my classmates have died
and that I am alive.

There is that thrill, that flutter,
that hoped-for sweetness
as long as there is mail.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Interview with Neil Silberblatt: Founder of Voices of Poetry

(Left Doug Holder/Right Neil Silberblatt)

Interview with Neil Silberblatt: Founder of Voices of Poetry

with Doug Holder

In spite of suffering from cancer and all that entails, poet Neil Silberblatt fights on and presents poets, readings and other events through his organization “Voices of Poetry.” This one man dynamo has become a major player in the poetry scene on the Cape, Connecticut, and the region.

Neil Silberblatt was born and grew up in New York City, lived for a (long) time in Connecticut, and is now a “wash ashore” on Cape Cod.  He has been writing poetry since his college days.  His poems have appeared in several print and online literary journals including Verse Wisconsin;Hennen’s Observer; Naugatuck River Review; Chantarelle’s Notebook; Oddball Magazine; and The Good Men ProjectHis work has also been included in Confluencia in the Valley: The First Five Years of Converging with Words (Naugatuck Valley Community College, 2013), an anthology of selected poetry and prose; and in University of Connecticut’s Teacher-Writer magazine.  He has published two poetry collections: So Far, So Good (2012), and Present Tense (2013).  He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and one of his poems – Recycling Instructions – received Honorable Mention in the 2nd Annual OuterMost Poetry Contest judged by Marge Piercy.

Doug Holder: Neil—how did you originally come to poetry?

Neil Silberblatt: I came to it in two ways. One was genetically and the other academic. I have two older brothers—I am one of three boys. My brothers had the good fortune to have two great poetry teachers—Robert Lowell at Harvard and Kenneth Koch at Columbia. They would bring home these poetry books during the spring and summer, put them on the shelf—and I read them. I was especially inspired to read them after I was told the books were over my head. Then in high school I had the incredible good luck of having a great English teacher—Frank McCourt—at Stuyvesant High School in New York City. He was a very demanding teacher. He expected you to justify your presence in class. If you used your Monarch Notes or the like, he would read you the riot act. Because of this he made us think. This stirred my creative juices in a way that I hadn't experienced before. In college I took a lot of English courses with some top notch poets. I continue to hone the craft. It is a craft that you have to work at. I read and write as much as I can.

DH: You are from New York City. What made you relocate to the Cape?

NS: I was friends with somebody and the opportunity came up to move—so I came to the Cape to write and expand my life. I got to know the late poet Joe Gouveia. He was a poet and a force of nature. He hosted the Poet's Corner at on the radio station WOMR in Provincetown. Gouveia was sick with cancer and he asked if I could keep the mic warm for him while he recovered. He passed and I inherited the show. The podcasts for the show are archived at I personally have interviewed a lot of the poets from the Fine Arts Center here in P-Town—like Mark Statman, Jennifer Franklin, Michael Klein and many others.

DH: Tell me a bit about your organization “ Voices of Poetry.”

NS: There are two components of “ Voices of Poetry.” One part is the events that I organize. Basically I am the organization. I go out and find poets and their work and invite them to read. I get folks from the Cape, Connecticut, N.Y., and the region. I have developed a network of connections. I love the art of poetry. I want people to hear poets who really deserve an audience.

DH: How is it funded?

NS: Sometimes hosting libraries have funds—there are some voluntary donations at readings, etc...

DH: How did the Voices of Poetry Facebook page develop?

NS: It started out as a community bulletin board for people to reference then it just evolved.

DH: You have been waging a courageous battle with cancer. Has poetry acted as a balm of sorts?

NS: My involvement with poetry predated my diagnosis. But having Stage 4 Colon Cancer has made me get as much out of the time I have left. I plan to go down fighting. I will not go gently into the night.

The Price of Paradise: A review of Monte Carlo Days & Nights by Susan Tepper

The Price of Paradise
A review of
Monte Carlo Days & Nights
by Susan Tepper
Rain Mountain Press, 74 pp.

Susan Tepper’s Monte Carlo Days & Nights is a triumph of the breezy uncanny – a slim volume thick with resonances.
At the surface level she narrates, in a series of discrete chronological scenes, the quotidian progress of an affair between a powerful music executive and a flight attendant who has taken a week off to tryst with him in “paradise.” And indeed the book may be read entirely on that level. That said, from the opening image – where parrots printed on the hotel corridor’s wallpaper are accompanied by a soundtrack of bird chirps – we are cued to a strangeness, an out-of-the-body quality, that pervades the story. We may suspect the romance took place in the ‘70s, though one occasionally finds notes of more recent “globalization.” From the sureness of the telling – delivered in the female protagonist’s first person voice – one feels certain the relationship is over, though the how and why of its dissolution are not revealed. Nor are clues given as to the time elapsed since the events related, or the current circumstances of the narrator.

We should get married, he says, but I will never marry. But if I were to marry, you’d be the one.

These sentences, repeated twice, once in the middle of the text, and again at the very end, are clearly written, yet subtly leave open the question of who the “I” and “you” refer to. Particularly since the dialogue, sans quotation marks, is folded into the running text.

Likewise, one can only conjecture about the narrator’s motive for writing this slice of her biography, since there seems no urgent need on her part for catharsis, nor does the telling feel impelled by nostalgia for a different, or younger, or better time. All of which leaves the reader with a puzzle. Every piece fits, but despite a wealth of particular details, no depth of field emerges. Man and Woman, who, throughout the text remain unnamed, engage in a great deal of sex, purportedly passionate. But their couplings are not described. Absent almost completely is a sense of touch, with one vivid exception which I’ll discuss below. This means that we  come to “know” the characters without connecting sensations or other referents.

I want to make clear that this is a strategy pursued with discipline and consistency, and so efficaciously that what does emerge from beneath the stylistic mask, and without so much as a hint of didacticism, is a struggle for power between two vastly unequal contenders. Man is cast as a wealthy gear-turner in Joni Mitchell’s “star maker machinery.” Woman works in a seemingly glamorous, but physically taxing and psychologically punishing job, for a barely-living wage. In order to be admitted into Man’s world, she must present as tasteful, sleek and attuned to the occasion. To pull off being such a class chameleon requires poise, circumspection, and mad skills as a bargain shopper. This book, without ever tipping its hand, narrates Woman’s collusion with and resistance to Man’s domination, but leaves open her personal motive for playing this game and her stake in its continuance.

Though referred to as a powerful figure in the music industry, Man is given traditionally effeminate qualities, for example, he eats lightly, mostly salads, forcing Woman to do the same despite her lumberjack’s appetite. Man is also subject to fits of pique when his whims are stymied in any way. He doesn’t drink alcohol, rather, at poolside, many small bottles of Perrier. His physical description consists of two attributes that run counter his yin personality: a long beard – which he occasionally strokes – and an impressive erection.

What we know of Woman comes through his generic appreciation of her body parts. He praises her legs, her ass, her breasts. Not, however her face. And Woman never describes herself, apart from a reference to contrasting tanned and pallid flesh. At this and at all other levels, the narrative is tightly controlled, nothing brims over into outright drama.

The closest we get to open conflict is when the couple ventures out on a shopping expedition to San Remo. There, they are accosted by a trio of thugs who threaten them with robbery and hurl anti-Semitic jibes at Man, who freezes, leaving Woman to drive them away.

Gripping his arm, we continue down the sidewalk. A few minutes go by before he speaks. That was really something, he says. What you did. It was very brave. He seems shaken by the incident.
Well I’m used to crazy people, I say. The planes are full of crazy people. You have no idea.
We walk on, I continue gripping his arm. I look straight ahead. I’m afraid to look at him. I don’t want to see fear.

She is afraid to see his fear. Are we witnessing a relationship between two individuals, or an enacted polarization within a single self? The power struggle between this dyad culminates in the scene immediately following when Woman expresses her wish to visit the actual beach rather than the hotel pool. Man accedes, seizing the opportunity to exert leverage by dressing her for the occasion. Woman pushes back:

Hold it, please. I would like to pick out my own bikini.
I want you in a white one.
Not white! White goes see-through when it gets wet.
You’ll be naked anyway, he says.
That again! I feel myself starting to tighten. I sit at the foot of the bed. Treat me like a whore, I say.

Later, at the sea, “the sun is directly overhead. Everything… looks Technicolor.” Indeed all seems brightly lit in this world. But little is seen that can be reliably confirmed, no more than is revealed on Camus’s fatal beach. Indeed in Monte Carlo… nobody dies, or is injured, except at the level of sensibility, as in the scene where several young women strip at the pool, driving a cohort of fat old men to a display of primate masculinity and scandalizing their wives. While not enacted directly against the body, aggression and a kind of compulsive, archetypally-driven madness underpin the telling. “Two of the wives get out of their chaises and approach the naked girls. Demanding they cover up. The French girls just arch their backs, laughing.”

Partly because it gestures toward but refuses to concretize itself in physical sensation, the language of this book implants itself in the mind, there to work on all the more powerfully on the imagination – to draw us into a paradise of no resolution. One could attempt, at scholarly length, to analyze how the author accomplishes this literary feat. Suffice it that once read, this tale, in all its paradox, becomes impossible to dislodge from one’s internal landscape.

Reviewer bio:

Eric Darton’s books include the novel Free City and the bestselling social history Divided We Stand: A Biography of the World Trade Center. More of his work can be accessed at and He is co-editor of The Wall,, an online triannual review of world literature.