Sunday, February 1, 2015

Misery Islands By January Gill O’Neil

Misery Islands
By January Gill O’Neil
CavanKerry Press
Fort Lee, NJ
ISBN: 978-1-933880-46-4
78 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Some islands bask under an equatorial sun, massaged by gentle trade winds and tickled by turquoise water. Others offer stony, unforgiving shores, dangerous channels, and wreckage of grander days, with only the icy winds of desperate hope and final survival to mitigate the landscape.

It’s these “other” islands and their human iterations that January O’Neil dwells on in her dolorous but passionate new book of poetry, Misery Islands.

Opening the collection O’Neil audaciously fleshes her persona out in Whitmanesque fashion as everyman and, even more emphatically, everywoman. She identifies with those left behind and challenged by difficult circumstances, those storm tossed isles navigating daily life. Her persona drops words onto the page from a whirlwind of transitory motion. The poet says,

I am every mill town and boarded-up factory,
the assembly line disassembled, the layoffs,
layaways, and laid to rest.

I put the depressed into depression
I am America reconstructed; I am a force at work.

I dig a ditch, I fill a ditch.
My collar is white, my collar is blue.

I am missing 23 cents out of every dollar
a woman is supposed to earn
but doesn’t.

I am every God damn it and Lord have mercy.

O’Neil’s poem Rent To Own follows the routine of an older guy with bad knees as he cleans used furniture, removing the unsightly detritus from the bottom strata of human life. Her bigger theme that we are all just passing through in this life bolts up, volcano-like, through the messy details. Here’s a pretty telling section,

You’d be surprised how many people
pick their noses and leave the evidence
under the arm of an armchair, he tells me.
Roaches, bed bugs, pet hair, dander—
you name it, it’s there, in the fibers,
the polyester pillows and dense cushions.
Steam vapor removes almost anything,
even tar from a chaise owned by a guy
who works at an asphalt company,
working his ass off in 10-hour shifts
to afford his slice of America.

Tension between the roles of mother and child settles into an intimate and singular series of motions. The business-like care giver unfurls not only a washcloth but a sense of profound gratitude and love. O’Neil conveys the scene with affecting sentiment and dignity. Individuals, islanders, in other words, do make a difference. I really like the piece. The poet concludes this way,

She reaches around for the cloth
with slow and deliberate movements
as if not to admit pain, not to convey need—

the caregiver needing care, the care taker
not taking as she usually does. Not today.
I want to tell her I love her

but I don’t. I cover her with a towel
and some small talk, try not
to notice what’s missing.

No words, yet I listen
like a stethoscope
for her to say something. 

Putting into words the carnage of a marriage breakup confounds many of the best writers, most especially over sensitized poets. I can think of a recent Pulitzer Prize winner for instance. O’Neil handles this subject with just the right touch as her warmed up words chill and disappear into a midwinter’s frigid air. Her sentiments court despair with humor and astonish with tight artistic control. The poet aches out her feelings in an touching conclusion,

I can’t compete with the failing light
from your voracious heart
burning us both into nothing.

Something has left us.
Every droplet of joy evaporates
to sky. When will melt come?

How could anyone blame you
for wanting to escape
the coldest month of the year?

Like Homer’s Penelope, O’Neil weaves heartbreak and metaphor into one composition. Her title poem, Misery Islands, opens with a narrative description of two wondrous and tenuously connected islands off the coast of Salem Massachusetts—Great Misery, and Little Misery. Both are now uninhabited. Each island has its own personality and its own geologic traits. The poet also splices in other historical, tidal, and climate particulars of the islands which strangely magnify the emotional discomfort of the interwoven and parallel marital distress narrative. Consider the following juxtaposition. First the historical, set on Great Misery in the “roaring twenties,”

Imagine a pier, a club house,
a swimming  pool filled with salt water,
guest cottages to the horizon line,
a tennis court and tournaments,
a nine-hole golf course with caddies
dressed in pressed white linens.

So elegant, so glamorous a setting,
You can almost see a couple
Looking out over a balcony,
Hands entwined, the moon
Hanging over them
By the thin thread of midnight.

Now the equally compelling glory days before the marriage collapse,

I loved. You loved. We loved
with our whole selves—
lips first, then the tumble of skin
pulling each other down,
caught in the tangle and swirl,
closer to terror, closer to ourselves
the way we became something else
as soon as we were in it
the way our bodies displaced truth
through the depths of anger,
the way it changed us
and we were changed by it.
We were poor swimmers
Too far in the rip to be saved.

Late in the collection, another favorite of mine, the poem A Mother’s Tale appears. The poem whispers easily a harsh truth—life’s ephemeral nature. The poet’s persona speaks to her son and offers an interesting antidote to the human condition and its concomitant isolation. She says,

I tell my son
that the best poems
are written in the sand
and washed away with the tide.
I say the moon controls the waves,
uses the wind to rake the shore.
It is an open invitation to fill
The world with words…

O’Neil clearly follows her persona’s sage advice. She fills the world with her extraordinary poetic words, and we get to read them.

Monday, July 21, 2008



By Doug Holder

This is an interview with Somerville writer, Steve Almond. * published in the Somerville News.

There is a saying from an old television show, to the tune of, " There are a million stories in the Naked City, this has been one of them." This statement referred to New York, but this could apply to Somerville, Mass. as well. And not only are there a million stories, but there is an ample supply of writers in our locale to pen many a compelling tale.One new kid on the block is Steve Almond, who has written a critically acclaimed collection of short stories, MY LIFE IN HEAVY METAL. Almond, who teaches at Boston and Emerson colleges and has been published in any number of prestigious literary journals, has completed a work that explores the capricious nature of that thing that bewitches, bemuses, and bother us, namely, LOVE. I talked with Mr. Almond at Starbuck's in the heart of Davis Square, Somerville.

DH: Many writers get their start as journalists. Off hand I can think of Ernest Hemingway and Stephen Crane. You worked as a journalist for awhile. Did this spur you on to write fiction?

SA: Yeah. I didn't have the courage to write fiction just out of school. I was too beat up by my family, lack of self-esteem,etc..I did want to work with language. I needed to be pushed into the world a little bit. I was a reporter and it was the best thing I ever did. It forced me to shut up and listen to people. It gave me an ear for dialogue. I learned to write every day. I was slowly getting enough recognition and I was able to develop confidence.I was in my late 20's; and I thought" You know, I got to break away from the corporate setting. I have to try fiction, or I will hate myself if I don't."

"My Life In Heavy Metal" was my first book, so it was a big break for me. It is so hard to get stories published, and so hard to sell them. You have to sell books. I love readings, but the hard part is how many you sold, the numbers.

DH:You live in Somerville, the Winter Hill section. Is Somerville a good place to be?

SA: I have lived in Somerville for four and a half years now. I moved straight from North Carolina where I was in graduate school. I got an MFA in Creative Writing at the Univ.of North Carolina. I didn't want to stay in the South.In New York I felt I would be too distracted. I came up to visit in Boston and found an apartment in Somerville, one of those big, old houses-I loved it. I also knew I wanted to teach, and I knew I could teach here. I love the Portugese Bakery around the corner from my house( Winter Hill Bakery). I like a place where I can hear both Portugese and Italian being spoken. I like being close to Boston,but not being right in it. I like not living in Cambridge; it's too expensive.
Somerville is working class; there are some artists;there are university kids who bring energy, not a lot of corporate types. I am happy to have a quiet niche.

DH:Have you written any Somerville based stories?

SA: None of the ones in this book. The one story in the collection that is informed by Somerville, is: " The Last Single Days of Don Viktor Potapenko." It is about a pickpocket,and a lothario. There is a poetic squalor to the scene. It has the idea of can't live on Winter Hill without hearing about about the Winter Hill Gang and Whitey Bulger. There is some romantic danger just down the street. It takes me a few years to soak up a place that I live in, in order to write about it.

DH:In MY LIFE IN HEAVY METAL,you write about love, lust and relationships. In spite of all the ironic and glib barbs thrown in this book, there is still a sense of romanticism. Do you agree?

SA: Oh yeah. I am glad to hear you say that. In its worst moments it's glib. What I wanted to write about is the heartbreak and the suffering of desire. That's what everyone goes through. If they don't I pity them. The stories are about how we throw our bodies before our hearts.We pay a price...always. There is a larger endorsement of the effort for love in this book. I hope people who read these stories feel less alone with their dangerous desires...mistakes.

DH: Critics say that you write beautifully about sex. Can you comment?

SA: I have no interest in exploiting sexuality. I think sex is one of the deepest emotional, intellectual and spiritual experiences. There is no such things as "casual sex." There is a lot more going on.

DH:You teach at a couple area colleges and schools. How does this help or hinder your craft?

SA: I teach at Boston College and Grub St. I love it. I am energized by it because I get a chance to talk about what I love, and get paid for it.

DH: Are you in touch with other Somerville writers?

SA: I knoew (poet) Joe Torra. Josh Barkin is a friend of mine. I try to find other young writers to hook up with.

DH: As the song goes" It's still the same old story"; but is it? Is the search for love the same as 40 or 50 years ago?

SA: It is very different. The force of society to get married is gone. Men and women suffer for it. The larger message of the book is if you don't know yourself, you are sunk. Previously you banged things out in a marriage, now there is an extended adolescence.There are real prices to be paid.

DH: Any new projects?

SA: I am working on a novel. I am slugging it out. I hope to be done with a draft at the end of the year.

Deborah M. Priestly, is much more than just a poet...

Deborah M. Priestly, is much more than just a poet...

Poet Deborah M. Priestly is many things. She is the manager of the hub of Cambridge’s art scene, the "Out of the Blue Art Gallery," that she runs with her partner Tom Tipton. She is a gay rights activist, a survivor of sexual abuse, a mother of two daughters, a painter and an accomplished poet. Priestly has a number of publication credits and is the author of several chapbooks of poetry. Her latest two projects that she completed were the editing, along with Timothy Gager and Maria McCarthy, of the "Out of the Blue Writers Unite" poetry and prose anthology, and work on her own collection of poetry "The Woman Has A Voice." This collection deals with the sexuality and spirituality of women amidst their turbulent lives. Priestly who has read and hosted at the "Toast" poetry series, was a guest on my Somerville Community Access TV show: "Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer."

Doug Holder: Can you give us a little history of the "Out of the Blue Gallery" in Cambridge that you run with your partner Tom Tipton?

Deborah Priestly: I am not a founder of the "Out of the Blue Art Gallery." It was originally at 168 Brookline St. in Cambridge, down the block from the "Middle East." Tom Tipton and Sue Carlin founded it about seven years ago. Tom and Sue had the idea to have a really cool space that would give artists a chance to show their work. They wanted to have art and music, etc... One afternoon Tom was sitting at the "Brookline Lunch" in Cambridge with Sue. The owners overheard them discussing this idea, and told them they could hang art at his shop. So they hung art in this luncheon spot. Later they hung art in a loft in Chinatown. One day they were having lunch at the same place, and the owner said: "I have a property available." The rest is history. So--that’s how it happened. Later we moved to 106 Prospect Street. Just like any great idea it started with a conversation and ended up a reality.

The first time I discovered the gallery I was jogging, and I landed out front of the " Out of the Blue Art Gallery." I thought: "What the heck is this place?" I told Tom and Sue that I thought this was a great space. I told them it would be great if they had a poetry reading. Then I basically walked out. At the time I was working at Boston University. Later, I walked in again, and said the same thing. Tom said: " I remember you. You are Debbie. If you think we should have a poetry reading, then you should do it." The rest is history. Now I am proud to say that I am part of this really cool idea.

DH: How do you define yourself as an artist?

DP: I guess as an inventor on-the-fly. I used to say I am a poet. Now I paint as well, but down deep I have to say I am a poet because of the way I think. People have told me that when I drink, and I am a little tipsy, I speak in verse. So down deep I am a poet.

DH: Do you think the troubles you experienced, sexual abuse, epilepsy, depression, etc... spurred you on to write?

DP: In a weird way yes because it gave me an outlet. For the times I felt alone, the writing was really like a friend. When I can’t write now I paint. I always tell younger people it’s really important to get what you are feeling out. If I didn’t have this outlet I probably would be using drugs, and drinking. The book "The Woman Has A Voice" isn’t about feeling sorry for myself. In the collection I try to show people there is a way out of the darkness. There is resolution and hope.

DH: Why do you feel so many poets, and artists have been effected by mental illness?

DP: I think a lot of the times artists are more aware and sensitive to their environment. I don’t want to use the word "mental illness.’ I just want to say they may be over sensitive to the stimulus around them. I react strongly to a siren for instance, while a friend may find it a mere annoyance. I’m just more sensitive to the stimuli.

Marc Widershien interviewed by Doug Holder

Marc Widershien interviewed by Doug Holder
April, 2001, Boston, Massachusetts
A Lucid Moon Interview no. 11

Marc Widershien has completed a memoir, The Life of All Worlds, due to be released before the end of the year by the Ibbetson Street Press/Stone Soup Poets. This book will deal with Widershien's boyhood in Boston during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Widershien, 57, is currently teaching at Springfield College of Human Services, and Massachusetts Communications College in Brookline, Massachusetts. Marc is also an accomplished poet, artist and musician. He has worked as a Ph.D cab driver, bookkeeper, bookstore owner, and librarian. I have known Marc for a short while, but I quickly realized that there was a lot to learn from him, especially about the life of the creative person in America. In spite of personal and professional setbacks, he kept his eye on his seminal vision. Now as a mature artist he describes himself as a student of the word, and retains an aura of energy of a much younger man.

DH: I always ask this question of poets I interview. How did you become one? Was it something that started very early, or did you gradually grow into it? Was there a dramatic defining moment?

MW: I am still not sure. My mother and aunt edited a tabloid called Chai Odom Bulletin (I mentioned this in The Life of All Worlds). I remember the deadlines, the excitement. It reminded me of one those fast talking films you would see in the 1930s where reporters are screaming into telephones. Everyone is running around in circles. These were called "screwball comedies." Sirens blare, a cub reporter rushes in to say there's an elephant loose in Central Park that kind of thing. I felt ignored, but at the same time, drank in that energy. I can still hear those old Royals clicking away like butterflies. That was one incident. In 1961, I was at the Eastman School of Music, studying the violin. I was in low spirits by the middle of December. Mr. Cooper, our English teacher, would play these strange poems on records: "Let us go there you and I..." "The Sea of Faith Too" They helped me define my anguish. It was a catalytic moment. Months later, in a pouring rain, I sat at a table next to the window, felt peaceful, and started to write complete drivel. It was then I started to really read poetry with intensity: anthologies with poems by Keats, Arnold, Auden, Spender. Then I discovered Eliot, then Pound, Stevens, Baudelaire, and so forth.

DH: Explain the germ of the idea of The Life of All Worlds. How did all of this start?

MW: First of all, the book is subtitled, Fragments from an Autobiographical Journey. My father died in 1970, at the age of 64. I was 26, living in San Francisco, and attending San Francisco State. I knew that my father had been ill, but I didn't know how ill. I came home from work one day, and there on my outside steps was a telegram wedged under the door. It was from my mother, informing me of my father's death. I flew back to Boston in the middle of the night. I attended the funeral, and had to be back on the Coast the next day. Back in San Francisco, I mourned my father, but I felt inexplicably angry, as if we had unfinished business. One day, I was in Berkeley, and came across this book by Bishop James Pike, The Other Side. In the book, Pike was talking to his dead son (who had killed himself). I took temporary solace in the fact that there was an "other world." But not long after, I had some kind of a breakdown. There had been an incubation of about three months, and then the universe fell on me. I was out there, and psychically raw. I had to confront my grief and the deeper issues in life. In 1972, I left San Francisco, and finally ended up in New York. I think the book records the inspiration of a young man who in some ways is a very old man. The writing went on for several years.

DH: You told me that in San Francisco, you viewed a most beautiful sunset, and you had what you described as a "vision." Was this sort of a defining moment for yourself as a man and an artist?

MW: The sunset was in my head. You might call it an out-of-body experience. In fact, I remember few sunrises and sunsets in that fog-driven town. As I said, I think my father's death and my grief opened up a level of consciousness that I had never completely experienced. This-mind you-without certain "inducements." The only similar epiphanic moment that was so intense was when I was a four year old boy walking Revere Beach, Massachusetts, just after dawn. That was a sunrise!

DH: How did your background as a working class Jewish kid from Boston shape your artistic sensibility?

MW: Let me say that my experience was common to people of numerous ethnic groups. In certain kinds of literature, one writes about what one knows best. It was as Irving Halperin of San Francisco State once said: "Home sweet home." Dorchester gave me some sense of community, but it was a mixed bag. You had to fight, and I did. My feeling for the arts began, maybe, with my cousin Myron Press who was a fine pianist and an inspiration to us-because he was the oldest. Myron, without knowing it, gave us a great legacy. He died young, of childhood diabetes. From Dorchester, it was on to the Boston Music School where I eventually studied art and music. I also loved to paint, and my mother gave me a steady supply of oils and watercolors. She sacrificed for me in that way. I somehow bridged the gap between blue collar Dorchester, and the Brahmin Back Bay. I also had mentors and role models whom I dearly loved. It was a childhood of great ironies, both joyful and depressing. But I say this: If the past makes you cry, it was worth living-- because it shows reverence. In fact, time itself, is a mental construct. This is not to say we should wallow in that demon nostalgia. The past was not better than the present, just different. Poets are distillers, but they also get drunk on what they distill. At the same time, a person without a past has not lived "authentically." And part of the equation is that artists don't perceive the past as "the past."

DH: You have had a wide variety of jobs and careers. What have these experience brought to your work?

MW: I'm not sure how to answer that question. Work may have instilled in me the habit of writing, whenever, wherever I could sneak it in. You see, these piddle jobs had nothing to do with anything but making a buck. I'd rather make a poem. I've never been to a retreat, yet have always made time for writing. I wrote between the lines of my existence. Poetry is a sneaky business to begin with. Everyday we try to steal fire. Yet poems, for me, are no ordinary occurrences. First you play with the language, then try to make poems out of it all.

DH: Is the struggling artist experience a valuable one? Is suffering necessary, or is this just a cliche?

MW: Poetry is and will forever be a craft. I like to think of myself as a composer rather than a poet, because you need a certain amount of training just to get anything down on paper. Poets hang out their shingles all the time, before they are ready, often concerned more with self than with art. I'm against that. In some ways, poets can be very selfish and insensitive. All people suffer; they are like orange skins. And I've met a lot of thick-skinned writers too. I've seen suffering. You don't have to be an artist to suffer. What you do need to be is a constant observer of life's minutia. You may not see heaven in a grain of sand, but you will see the sand a helluva lot better. That kind of suffering is redemptive. "The wise man learns to enjoy his suffering," a sage once said.

DH: What themes do your poems most often deal with? From my reading of your work, there seems to be a strong spiritual sensibility to them.

MW: Mallarme wrote that all reality is spiritual. He spoke of the willed disappearance of the poet, of le neant. That man understood the creative process. That's my focus, but one must be very careful to make certain that art is more experiential than didactic. I love music and art and poetry. I love dance. Poets need to be aware of man's highest flights of the imagination. It is a process-always. I believe as the Paul Klee wrote: "Be arrows of fulfillment even though you will tire before having reached the goal." I also think that art is embodied in something else he said: "Man's metaphysical freedom contrasted by his physical limitations is the root of all tragedy." What else could a mere mortal like myself add?

DH: Finally, what advice do you have for the novice poet?

MW: Think of everything you do as grist. Talent is vital, but study, experiment, self-discovery through art is indispensable. When a writer is ready, the mentors will come-and they must come if an artist is to grow. Don't worry about imitating other writers. Eventually you will develop a style because "the style is the man himself." (Remy de Gourmont). Do not rush into publishing. That is deadly. Sit on the poem until you get it right. You may have to sit on it for years. And be prepared for the hard knocks of other people not liking your work. I have always agreed with Pound in The ABC of Reading: "Technique is the test of sincerity." Finally, be a servant of the word; it takes a lot of humility to create durable art.

The Old Photograph

The smiling apparition seems never to have lived,
but owes its existence to our own nostalgia.
My father no more than fifteen
wears his drill uniform with pride.
(A Jew In Russia could not wear a uniform.)
It is the grin of a fresh cadet in the new world
of Boston's West End, with cobbles instead of wheel ruts.
I write my epilogue in the sad dust of those generations.

Man on the Earth

L'Homme en terre place a l'homme sur la terre
--Paul Eluard

In the spirits of rain
in the heart's cry
the word is only a provocation.

It is man, wholly man
walking on earth
affirming his dignity,
feeding on a heritage sustained
by and sustaining the dad.

Man in the earth gives way to man
on the earth.

Gloria Mindock: A Doyenne of the Somerville Arts Scene

Gloria Mindock: A Doyenne of the Somerville Arts Scene.

By Doug Holder

On an early Friday morning a slightly soggy Gloria Mindock came out of a torrential rain to talk to the staff of The Somerville News about her longtime involvement in the Somerville arts scene. Mindock has an impressive literary pedigree in our
artistically endowed city. She moved from a small town in Illinois to the “ville in 1984.
She told the News that it took her 3 years to get used to the relatively fast pace of her new hometown. But after her initial adjustment she was off to the races. She co-founded the Theatre S&S Press Inc., which published books and produced experimental plays. It received grants from such prestigious institutions as the Rockefeller Foundation. Later, after the theatre went “south”, she co founded the Boston Literary Review (BLUR), and was the editor from 1984 to 1994. After a decade of working as an editor of other people’s work she took a creative hiatus to concentrate on her own.

Mindock remerged after a long hibernation to find the Cervena Barva Press a couple of years ago. The press to date has published poetry postcards, chapbooks, and perfect bound editions of poetry by such poets as: Mary Bonina, Harris Gardner, Simon Perchik, George Held, and many others. Upcoming in her impressive lineup of talented bards are: Lo Galluccio, Tim Gager, Chad Parenteau and Steve Glines to name just a few.

But Mindock , who has been a drug counselor with the social service agency Caspar Inc. in Somerville for many years, had even greater ambitions. She recently took over the editorship of the online literary magazine Istanbul Literary Review, and along with her partner Bill Kelle, (who helps Mindock with all aspects of her many enterprises) publishes a newsletter that lists poetry readings around the country, includes interviews with poets and writers, as well as featuring breaking news from the world of the small press.

Mindock, along with her friend the poet Mary Bonina, has also launched a poetry reading series at the upscale Pierre Menard Gallery on Arrow Street in Harvard Square in the Republic of Cambridge. It has become the talk of the town, and “the” place to read along with the “Grolier Poetry Series” at Harvard and the venerable “Blacksmith” poetry series down the block.

Recently Mindock has published a collection of her own poetry through Somerville’s Ibbetson Street Press “ Blood Soaked Dresses.” This book of poetry pays tribute to the El Salvadoran people who suffered greatly during their Civil War in the 1980’s.

Of the Somerville arts scene Mindock said:

“The arts scene here is wonderful. Just look at the great events the Somerville Arts Council organizes each year. Somerville is booming with writers, painters, and actors. “

But she warns:

“If rents continue to rise in the area Somerville will see a mass exodus of artists. Most artists are not rich and struggle to survive. The city should do more for its artists, in terms of affordable housing.”

In spite of these worries Mindock feels lucky to live in this vibrant hub of the arts. She attends Saturday morning meeting of the Bagel Bards, a writers group that meets at the Au Bon Pain CafĂ© in Davis Square, and like a energized and colorful butterfly she flits from reading to art opening, supporting her many friends in the community. Somerville has been called the “Paris of New England” and one of its solid citizens is a woman who wears many hats, or as the case may be berets, Gloria Mindock.

To find out more about Gloria Mindock go to

TIM GAGER: An Interview with a Dire Reader

An interview with Timothy Gager: A “Dire” Reader in Somerville, Mass.

Writer Timothy Gager is a man who crosses many literary genres. He has a new poetry collection out from Somerville’s Cervena Barva Press: “ this is where you go when you are gone.” In 2007 alone Gager had 32 works of fiction, as well as poetry published in online and print journals. Gager is the current fiction editor of the “Wilderness House Literary Review,” the coeditor of the “Heat City Literary Review,” and the editor of the fiction and prose anthology “Out of the Blue Writers Unite.” He is the cofounder of the Somerville News Writers Festival, as well as the Dire Literary Series in Cambridge, Mass. The series was voted “Best Of” in the Boston Phoenix 2008. I spoke with him on my Somerville Cable Access TV show “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”

Doug Holder: Tim you write both poetry and fiction but until recently you were primarily known as a fiction writer. Which do you identify with more strongly: poetry or fiction?

Tim Gager: I don’t define myself as exclusively either of them. I don’t wake up in the morning and say: “ I am a poet, I am going to write a poem.” Or “ Gee, I haven’t written a story for awhile, I’m going to write a story.” If something strikes me at a certain depth or certain level, that is when it is going to become a poem or a story.

DH: Charles Bukowski wrote that wine, classical music, jazz, the horses, and women were essential to his writing life. What’s on your list?

TG: Reading. Food. Love. Disappointment. Achievement.

DH: Any music?

TG: I like calming music. I like folk music. I also like to have baseball on in the background. I’m not really watching it on the TV. I’m not listening to it, but I like it on.

DH: Some writers claim that writing is like an addiction. Your take?

TG: Addiction is sort of a strong word. It can be viewed negatively. I think “passionate” is a better word. With passion-you always want to be in possession of it. If you have a passion for writing you want to spend as much time with your love as you possibly can.

If I wasn’t writing I would miss it. It would be like my best friend went across the country. But I would survive. But I can’t see myself giving it up. If I didn’t write there would be definitely a void.

DH: Baseball comes up in a lot of your writing, as well as other writers we know. What is it about the game that holds such allure?

TG: Baseball is the first reality television show. The drama is each individual’s numbers going up and down: it’s who is hitting better, who’s in first place. It’s a lot like life. Life has a lot of drama. There is also love in the game. When Manny Ramirez makes that great catch you love it.

DH: You co-founded The Somerville News Writers Festival. With the support of the folks at The Somerville News, you managed to book top name talent like Junot Diaz, Tom Perrotta, etc… You spend a lot of time on this. You are in essence making a showcase for other folks, and you are not getting rich. What makes Tim Gager, run?

TG: I promote other people, but, if I didn’t have the Dire Reader Series, The Somerville News Writers Festival, I would be missing out. The fact that I have these venues provokes people to check out my stuff. A lot of excellent writers’ work may never see the light of day. The fact that I founded these series is a big payoff for me personally. When in doubt (because it is subjective to a great degree of what good writing is), editors, etc… when they see that I have read with the likes of Franz Wright, may have second thoughts about my work. It has given me a lot of respect. I even getter better rejection slips…almost apologetic ones.

DH: But of course there is an altruistic reason, right?

TG: I believe writers should be treated like rock stars. It makes me happy to have an event where writers can be seen.

DH: The Norton and Tauro families, the owners of The Somerville News have been very supportive ,right?

TG: It has never been, “Hey, get 250 or 300 people or the festival is over…” I have that internal pressure on myself.

DH: In the poem “2A.M.” from your collection “ this is where you go when you are gone” you write provocatively about sex:

“On me
you push down
the weight on each bent leg,
cures my evils…”

Often you explore the ying and yang of your relationships with women. Is there more ying than yang or vice-a-versa?

TG: That’s a personal question. I use intentional double meanings. People may not get the poems—but it adds an extra layer. For instance: “ Pushing down on someone”—you might think that refers only to the physical aspect of sex. But it also means you are leaning on someone.

DH: You have run the Dire Literary Series for many years now. Recently it was voted of “Best Of…” in the Boston Phoenix. What’s your secret?

TG: It is funny how Dire evolved. I had thought it would be a variety show, like David Letterman, with all the guests as readers. It evolved into a house party, and everybody is involved.

You have to make your series fun—it has to move quickly—you have to be able to relate to people. You have to have “events” not just another reading. The audience should have a chance to schmooze with the writers for instance. Oh yeah, publicize…I am afraid not to.

An interview with Lo Galluccio: "Hot Rain"

An Interview With Lo Galluccio

Lo Galluccio is a multi-talented artist. Her career includes time in the theatre, as a songwriter and vocalist with Roy Nathanson and The Jazz Passengers, and as a vocal artist who released CDs with the Knitting Factory label in NYC. She also worked with John Zorn, the renowned avant- garde Jazz saxophonist, and had a track on one of his compilations. Most recently Lo has released a collection of poetry with the Ibbetson Street Press (Somerville, MA), titled Hot Rain.

Lo recently recited her poetry at the Toast Lounge in Somerville as part of The Somerville News at Toast series. She has also read at the Warwick Art Museum, Boston University Barnes and Noble, The Out of the Blue Art Gallery, and other venues around the Boston area. I talked with her recently on my show, “Poet To Poet/Writer To Writer.”

Some Other Magazine: Lo, you told me that two major influences on you are the rocker/poet Patti Smith and performance artist Laurie Anderson. In fact, Smith approached you once and told you that you have a beautiful voice. Do you take anything from Smith’s and Anderson’s work, and incorporate and use it in your own alchemy?

Lo Galluccio: Laurie Anderson was someone who influenced me to stop being an actress, and start wanting to have an original voice and speak my own words in a certain way. I studied at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. My acting teacher talked about the performance artist Laurie Anderson, and how she had such a weird, and “right” perspective on things. I became interested in her pieces “Big Science” and “Strange Angels,” and eventually I just fell in love with her. She took the spoken word and made it into music. She is an architect of music and sound. She is also a conceptualist person.

Patti Smith is a totally different animal. To me, she is the saint of rock ‘n’ roll. She is a brilliant lyricist. When I encountered her, I was surprised to see that she was at my show at St. Mark’s church in NYC. But there she was, wearing a ski cap, and she had these blazing black eyes. She looked like a little crazy crow. She came up to me and said, “You have a beautiful voice.” I was just speechless, because she meant that much to me. That record Horses really inspired me, because she does a stream of consciousness that’s mixed in with rock ‘n’ roll riffs. There are expansive piano chords as well. My first record has been compared to hers a bit.

SOM: You have a beautiful, fey voice. I noted that in some ways your singing reminds me of the brilliant but doomed horn player Chet Baker. Is he an influence?

Lo: I was turned on to a Chet Baker documentary Let’s Get Lost. I got into how beautiful Baker was as a young man. Roy Nathanson use to call me the “ethereal girl” in the East Village. Roy is the lead saxophonist and band leader of the Jazz Passengers, and he is tremendous. His voice is so quirky, and his phrasing is so original. I was lucky to have him play on a demo for me. I was stunned by his voice. He said to me, “When you start singing in your own words, you are not going to want it the other way again.”

SOM: You told me you were discovered by Roy when you were watching your underwear revolve in a washing machine at a laundromat.

Lo: I moved to the East Village because someone said that is where the “weed” trees grow. In other words, where the outsiders, where the wild things are. I was in a laundromat on Second Ave. and Roy lived in a dumpy place around the corner. He saw me staring at my laundry and said, “You’ve got to be an artist because no one stares at their underwear as long as you have. Do you have anything to show me?” I said, “Yeah, I do, I have this collection of poems, Hot Rain.” I gave it to him, and he said “Wow...this stuff is really incredible. I want you to write a song with me for the In Love record that the Jazz Passengers are making for Windham Hill. That was my first professional gig as a lyricist. It was a thrill. Roy was old school...that way. If he saw you and read you, he would take a chance on you.

SOM: So many artists live hardscrabble lives. It is rare that I meet one who hasn’t suffered the black dogs of depression, drug addiction, or some bout of mental illness. Can you talk about this?

Lo: A friend of mine, a soul singer named Kore, said, “Everyone goes crazy at least once in their life.” Maybe “other” people are afraid to enter the sanctuary that madness provides for some artists. For me, I probably made it tougher on myself than I needed in some ways. I took one hit in New York that was really rough. I broke up with someone who mentored me. He was a partner and a lover, and we had a band together, “Fish Pistol.” We had an alchemy. And when that fell apart, I was devastated. It was tragic because we really loved each other, and we were really good together artistically. I made a mild suicide attempt. I was put in St. Vincent's Hospital psychiatric unit. At the time I fought like hell not to go in there. I really spent three hours in the ER, saying “you cannot put me in the locked ward!” They said, “Yes we can.”

SOM: Do you think meds and hospitalization compromise the creative process?

Lo: Not completely. I think it is good for some people to spend time away from the pressures of the world, whatever is hurting them. Being around other people and being supported by people, when that happens, and medication, when it works, is a good thing. At the time I was a raging bull about it.

SOM: How much of Hot Rain is fictional, and how much is autobiographical?

Lo: It is not fictional. I am a highly subjective person, and I like a high degree of subjectivity in poetry. I like Sexton, Lowell—the “Confessional” poets. Some of my poems play with identity and wild imagery. In those cases, the images take over the place of a rational narrative.

SOM: You told me that you were inspired by a voice you heard while taking a bath?

Lo: After I broke up with my boyfriend, I was in a lot of grief. So I went to a yoga center in New York. I went religiously, because I didn’t know how to heal myself. When I started to do yoga, I heard about the elephant-headed god Ganesha. I really worshipped his shrine. So I think that’s where the voice came from. It was like an echo of my own subconscious. It said, “Pale blue eyes.” “Wow,” I thought, “what is this voice coming from outside of me?” I was enamored with Ganesha. He is a dreamer’s God. I still have this voice with me. When I got to NYC, it is more pronounced because of the energy of the city. I think Gods are protecting all of us, somewhere and somehow, in different cultures and traditions.

For more info about Lo, go to www.logalluccio