In Lowell literary history, the back-of-the-envelope version used to highlight Lucy Larcom, the women writers of the Lowell Offering magazine, and Jack Kerouac, along with legendary visits by Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, John Greenleaf Whittier, and H. D. Thoreau. That envelope has more names now. In our time, many writers have emerged from the community while others are passing through as teachers and visitors or doing other kinds of work. Here are updates on twenty writers in the area who are familiar to many readers of this blog. The activity of these writers is interesting and substantial. They don’t have big marketing budgets to promote themselves, so it’s not easy for the public to keep up with their accomplishments.
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- Susan April: The Writing Adds Up (Jan 11, 2019)
- Jay Atkinson: Writer in Motion (Dec 28, 2018)
- Michael Casey: Book Review, New Chapbook, More (Dec 13, 218)
- David Daniel: New Books, Flash Fiction (Dec 26, 2018)
- Febo: Choosing Joy (Dec 12, 2018)
- Kate Hanson Foster: NEA Fellowship, Journal Publications (Dec 5, 2018)
- Matt Kraunelis & the Grey Court Poets of Methuen (Jan 2, 2019)
- Jacquelyn Malone: New Poems, Broadside Contest Winner (Dec 7, 2018)
- Matt W. Miller, “Moving the Chains” on the Writing Field (Nov 26, 2018)
- Helena Minton: Recent Book, New Poems, & Frost Foundation Work (Nov 28, 2018)
- Novelist David Moloney: Sky-High Advance Notices (Dec 2, 2018)
- Jack Neary, One Busy Theater Guy (Nov 23, 2018)
- Stephen O’Connor: Killin’ It with Short Stories (Dec 14, 2018)
- Emilie-Noelle Provost: First Novel & Back in the Magazine Biz (Nov 24, 2018)
- David Robinson: Writer-in-Residence, Portugal (Nov 30, 2018)
- Kassie Dickinson Rubico and Resi Polixa: On Their Writing Trails (Jan 3, 2019)
- Tom Sexton: New Book, New Poem (Nov 29, 2018)
- Brian Simoneau: Getting the Poems Out There (Dec 21, 2018)
- Meg Smith: Writer in Full Stride (Dec 27, 2018)
- Sarah Sousa: A Fruitful Creative Path (Jan 16, 2019)
- Live Poetry in Lowell (Jan 5, 2019)
- Paul Marion: Back in the Writing Saddle
- Emily Ferrara: Drawn to Lowell by the Arts (Mar 2, 2019)
Susan April: The Writing Adds Up
January 11, 2019
I’m interested in what writers do to make a living while they do their best to create high quality poems, fiction, plays, and works of nonfiction. Very few literary writers are employed full-time at the keyboard. Journalists, technical writers in business, advertising copywriters, and other professionals make a living with words. Not so much for a poet or novelist.
Susan April has a 35-year career in environmental policy, technical assistance to communities, and renewable energy projects, working in Greater Washington, D.C. She was born in Lowell, grew up in Dracut from junior high age, and graduated from Keith Hall high school. Susan was in the second class of graduates in environmental science at UMass Lowell, and then earned a master’s in geochemistry at the University of Chicago. She topped this academic activity with a Master of Fine Arts degree in writing from Vermont College.
I can’t recall how we bumped into each other, but I know it was at the intersection of Poetry and French streets, figuratively. Susan’s work appears in two anthologies that I co-edited, Merrimack : A Poetry Anthology (1992) and French Class (1999). Her poems have appeared in literary magazines. An essay about birdwatching on Plum Island in below-zero weather with UMass Lowell Prof. Jack Lyons’ class was published in Bird Watchers Digest. She says, “I fell in love with birds then! Weird, huh?”
Recent work has appeared in Heliotrope: French Heritage Women Create, Nuclear Impact: Broken Atoms in Our Hands (both of these are anthologies), Blink Ink magazine (flash fiction on Lowell diners), and Angry Old Man Magazine, Issue 2, https://angryoldmanmagazine.com/susan-april/ The poems in Angry Old Man are from Susan’s collection of “visual poems” called Through a Bottle, which is making the rounds of publishers. Look at the link to see these fascinating pieces.
Committed to her writing practice, Susan packed this past year with workshops and new projects, including novel writing with Sterling Watson, the Chesapeake Bay Writers’ Conference in Maryland, a workshop on the lyric essay with Angela Pelster, and a sojourn to the Robert Frost Place in Franconia, N.H, for the summer poetry seminar.
What’s coming in 2019? “I’d like to get my first book of poems in print. Also, I’ve got a novel-in-progress, “A Is for Asbestos,” an eco-thriller set in the Merrimack Valley, and I’m polishing a story collection called “Isidore’s Snowshoes,” loosely based, okay, entirely based, on my uncle Isidore, who garroted deer with piano wire because he had no money for bullets in the 1920s bootlegging-era around Lowell, Dracut, and Pelham, New Hampshire.”
Jay Atkinson: Writer in Motion
December 28, 2018
When I asked Jay Atkinson what he’s been up to this year, he gave me a rich summary that included a song-bite: “Take what you need and leave the rest . . .”
Jay lives in Methuen, Mass., and Lowell has been one of his special places for a long time, from his university teaching days to his presence at literary events and drop-ins at favorite eateries or “the Shrine,” St. Joseph’s on Lee Street. He and I played high school sports in the old Merrimack Valley Conference–hockey for him, baseball for me. I’ve enjoyed watching his writing career gain altitude—eight books and counting, plus many articles in magazines and newspapers. Jay teaches writing and a course on Jack Kerouac at Boston University, where he’s been on the faculty for ten years.
This past year, he continued to promote his latest book, Massacre on the Merrimack, a highly praised account of the Hannah Duston story from the dangerous period when English settlers pushed against the native people in our region. Jay said, “One of my most memorable events was a reading and discussion with the judges, lawyers, and staff of the Massachusetts Appeals Court. The highlight was an hour-long meeting in Justice Peter Agnes’s chambers, along with two other judges who asked me to sign their books. Never done that before.”
When I asked Jay about writing and publishing these days, he said, “The fracturing of big media, including books and magazines, etc., continues, but strangely, I feel less encumbered by marketplace decisions and am only writing what I can’t not-write, if that makes sense. I am superstitious and don’t talk about projects before they come to fruition, but I have five things I’m passionate about nearly finished.”
Another development is the “Explorer” series for New Hampshire Magazine, more than a dozen outdoor adventure stories he’s been writing in collaboration with visual artist Joe Klementovich. Here’s the latest article about pond hockey. Two stories ran this year, and five more are in the pipeline. He said, “In a sense, I’m writing an old-fashioned adventure novel in installments, with my rugby pals as ‘characters.’ One offshoot of this is a new multi-media storytelling class, a seminar really, that Joe and I will teach at Boston University this spring.”
There’s travel in his future. In March, he’ll be at Valdosta State University in Georgia as part of the school’s Writers Series. He’ll spend three days on campus, reading from new work, meeting students, and teaching a seminar on narrative to the writing faculty. The gig was arranged by Dr. Ted Geltner, a Journalism professor and biographer of Jay’s mentor, Harry Crews.
Michael Casey: Book Review, New Chapbook, More
December 13, 2018
Mike Casey has been publishing his poems since the early 1970s. He’s a graduate of Lowell High School, UMass Lowell (physics, Lowell Tech), and the State University of New York at Buffalo (master’s degree, creative writing). He won the prestigious Yale Younger Poets Award for his first book, Obscenities, a collection of powerful poems about his military service stateside and in the Vietnam War. He lives in Andover, Mass.
He is the author of several more books including There It Is: New & Selected Poems (Loom Press, 2017) and a new chapbook (or pamphlet) called Firearm ID and Other Poems (Ruminant Press, 2018). Reviewing There It Is in the current issue of Consequence Magazine, Elijah Burrell writes:
“Casey produces speakers by blending the personalities of those he has met along the way. Each poem is talky-rich with the voices and stories of genuine and flawed human beings. Casey grew up in Lowell, Massachusetts—a blue-collar town where young men worked in dye houses, textile mills, and fish sticks factories before they were drafted. Their voices and accents—their idioms—ring true with the rough speech heard on factory floors, inside beer halls, and along the south-central coast of Vietnam during a time of conflict. Sometimes Casey writes the voices phonetically to capture the cadences and sounds of conversation. . . . Authentic stories rarely end on an image. Conversations conclude, often, in explanation. Sometimes humans need to talk out their experiences and Casey knows this. The good news is that there is room for all of it, and—as the book’s title says to us—there it is.”
Mike has poems forthcoming in The Evening Street Review and Ibbetson Review. The editor at Ibbetson has nominated Mike’s poem for a Pushcart Award which recognizes excellence in literary magazines and books form independent literary publishers. About the Pushcart nomination, he said, “This is the second time that has happened in 50 years, and so I am set on fire.” Kudos to him for that.
Last month, Mike gave a poetry reading to an appreciative crowd at the Amesbury Public Library, and he was in central Mass. reading this fall.
David Daniel: New Books, Flash Fiction
December 26, 2018
I can’t say I discovered David Daniel in the Samuel de Champlain sense, but I found out about him through his novels, particularly The Heaven Stone (1994) and follow-up books in his crime fiction series with the private detective Alex Rasmussen working out of a scruffy office in downtown Lowell, Mass. It was exciting to have these new novels set in the city popping up at a regular rate. The books were from St. Martin’s Press, and he won an award for one of them.
A Boston native, Dave has been in the Lowell region for a long time. He has taught at UMass Lowell, Middlesex Academy Charter School, and elsewhere. His extended resume is a good read: carpenter, tennis pro, clam digger, lab assistant at Harvard Medical School.
Recent books include a volume of flash stories, Inflections & Innuendos (Storyside Press, 2017) and Three A.M. Wake-up Call, co-written with Nick Cato and Robb Watts (Book & Boos Press, 2018), part of the Terror Project series in which “death comes calling in unexpected ways.” Other short fiction is in Six Off 66 and Coffin Dust.
These days, he’s going through more than 300 flash fictions he’s written in the past couple years and selecting some for a collection to be titled Dinner Music for Cannibals, a follow-up to Inflections & Innuendos. What are these flash stories or flash fiction? This is a hot sector in publishing where the form calls for stories of a few hundred words and no more than a couple of thousand.
The Storyside , mentioned earlier, is an innovative collaboration with Dave, Vlad Vaslyn (a.k.a. Vlad V.), Stacey Longo, and Rob Smales. Here’s the online pitch:
Some of New England’s finest storytellers have joined forces to bring you the best in independent fiction. We could tell you that we have over 50 years of experience in the publishing industry. We could say that we’ve won awards and been nominated for other various literary accolades. We could point you to over twenty published titles ranging from mystery to horror to women’s fiction . . . but we’d rather let our stories do the talking.
Dave’s got a project going with former Lowell Sun sports reporter and local baseball guru Chaz Scoggins. “Chaz and I have resurrected a novel we co-wrote several years ago, updating it to see if there’s a publisher out there for a large and ambitious baseball story. Our immediate task is cutting the 200,000-word, 700-page book down to something feasible.”
I asked him what he’s reading. “I’m revisiting Saul Bellow. Just read Seize the Day and re-reading Herzog. Also reading, as I always do, and think every prose writer should, poetry. Currently, Marge Piercy’s The Moon is Always Female.”
Dave wrapped up our conversation with a current events comment: “Now more than ever, I am finding reasons to write letters to newspaper editors, post comments on stories in the Washington Post, which I read every day, and fight the good fight.” In some quarters, this is what is called “an engaged writer.”
Febo: Choosing Joy
December 12, 2018
I met Anthony Febo or Febo, as he is known professionally, (“Yes, it’s very Bono, Madonna, Seal of me,” he said when I asked his preference for a name in this update about his work.)—well, I met Febo in Lowell, Mass., when performance poetry/slam poetry/spoken word was coming into its own in the city about ten years ago. From the start it was clear to me that he had a gift for writing and this form of presentation. And he has tremendous energy, which makes him an outstanding ambassador for poetry. His educational background is Lowell High School and Middlesex Community College.
He got married this summer to Carlie Febo, who is also his artistic partner. Their wedding had a name, #sayyesandcry, and he said “it was the most beautiful collection of loving people assembled on Earth.” They live in East Cambridge now with an orange cat named Finn and a French Bulldog, Oscar.
Febo’s artistic mission statement reaches high: “I explore what it means to actively choose joy in the face of what is trying to break you. Using spoken word poetry, aspects of theatre, and elements of cooking, I examine issues such as toxic masculinity, family and mental health, culture and identity, and the role representation plays into a person’s development.”
In Lowell, he said the award-winning slam group FreeVerse! is recruiting more young people. About 20 people turned out for a meet-and-greet in November. Douglas Bishop, Ricky Orng, and Sara Massey lead the group these days with Febo helping out as needed. Follow FreeVerse! on Facebook for event news.
The Massachusetts Cultural Council is funding a coalition of youth spoken word leaders for three years in Boston, Worcester, and for the first time in Lowell, which means FreeVerse! will be involved. This is a major cultural coup and substantial validation for the artistic and organizing talent of Lowell participants.
Febo was recently the keynote speaker at Middlesex Community College’s LitCon, where he spoke about the power of “AND” through collaboration and “through different identities that we hold in our own body.” He may return to MCC in the spring to work with students.
He describes himself as a Puerto Rican artist who lives at the intersection of poetry, theatre, performance art, mixed media, and education. For 11 years, he has been a “dedicated learner of the arts and of youth education,” devoting his time to working with nonprofits in Lowell and Greater Boston. He coaches youth slam team and tours the country as a solo artist as well as a member of the cooking-and-poetry duo Adobo-Fish-Sauce.
Let’s pause here and go back to the previous line: “cooking-and-poetry duo.” With another Lowell roots poet, Ricky Orng, he has developed an innovative stage act that is gaining followers.
Febo explained: “This past fall I went on a 12-school college tour in the Midwest called Onfindingjoy: A Tour. This show had live cooking, which I also do with Adobo-Fish-Sauce, dancing, theatre, props, and a lot of vulnerability, serving as the inspiration for my first full-length book coming out next year from Game Over Books, based near Boston.
“Next year is shaping up to be amazing with the book coming out, the school opening, and also a five-day residency at The Run of the Mills in the Mills Gallery at the Boston Center for the Arts. Ricky Orng and I will be at the gallery from February 6th to the 10th. We’re transforming the gallery into a home and will have private House Warmings during the week along with a public performance of new work we’ll have created in our time there on Saturday, February 9th.” He and Ricky are working on a collection of poems that will double as a cookbook, but there’s no publication date for this yet.
As an educator, Febo is a founding member of a new project-based public high school in Somerville, Mass., called Powderhouse Studios, an XQ school . The school will open in Fall 2019 with Febo engaging young people with the program of study that he’s developing: “The Growth Triforce // understanding routine, the poetry, and slinging.”
Here are video links to see more from Febo, whose Instagram is @thisisfebo :
Kate Hanson Foster: NEA Fellowship, Journal Publications
December 5, 2018
We caught up to a busy Kate Hanson Foster on the Groton frontier, where she lives with her husband, Bert, and their three children. She reports that the garden is pulled up and they just stacked a cord of wood for the fireplace. She grew up in Andover, Mass., and graduated from UMass Lowell. Kate co-edited Renovation Journal in Lowell for a few years. She said 2018 was a productive year. Last October, she was awarded the NEA Parent Fellowship through the Vermont Studio Center which afforded her the time and space to finish her second poetry book manuscript, called Crow Funeral. Her first book, Mid Drift, is available from at loompress.com or at amazon.com for those who prefer that source.
Some of those poems have found homes or are forthcoming in journals such as Atticus Review, Mom Egg Review, Moon City Review, Salamander, and Birmingham Poetry Review. The title poem of the manuscript, “Crow Funeral,” was a semi-finalist for the Tupelo Quarterly Poetry Prize. Her poem “Grease” was a finalist for the Brittany Noakes Poetry Award, and another poem, “Elegy of Color” from Salamander magazine, will be reprinted in the 12th edition of The Bedford Introduction to Literature. “That’s pretty cool,” Kate said. And it is a big deal to have a poem in a best-selling textbook. The Bedford is in its 11th edition.
Full disclosure: Kate and I collaborated on a poem called “Star Grace” that was selected for They Said: A Multi-Genre Anthology of Contemporary Collaborative Writing, published this year by Black Lawrence Press.
When not working on poems, she writes book reviews, including a recent one of Matt W Miller’s The Wounded for the Water, published by The Critical Flame. Here’s the link.
And here are links to three of her poems:
“Never to be Told”
Matt Kraunelis & the Grey Court Poets of Methuen
January 2, 2019
Matt Kraunelis believes in the power of poetry to make a community more vibrant. I’ve known Matt since his days as a founding member of the Robert Frost Foundation in Lawrence, which has brought poets like Seamus Heaney and Robert Pinsky to the city in past years and sponsors literary festivals and readings. He has since organized the Grey Court Poets, a writing-workshop group in Methuen, Mass., whose members do public projects. The group is named for one of the community’s palatial estates of old, Grey Court Castle, which burned in the 1970s. The property is now a state park, popular with artists and photographers. The Methuen resident is the author of Tackle Box, a collection of poems that was nominated for the Massachusetts Book Awards in 2014.
Matt is director of administrative services for the town of Reading. A graduate of Merrimack College (English Lit), he has a law degree from Suffolk University. For our series about writers in the region, I asked him to brief us on his recent activities and those upcoming.
“I’m working on a full-length collection of poetry that I hope to finish during the first half of 2019. Highlights of my year were the publication and launch of the book Soulmates: A Union of Visual Arts and Poetry, a collaboration between the Grey Court Poets and the Arts Institute Group of the Merrimack Valley, both of which are based in Methuen. I have several poems in the book, which is a collection of short poems based on artwork that is reproduced in the book. We had a very successful launch event in Methuen in September attended by about 50 people—and we’re bringing the show on the road with an event at the Whistler House Museum in Lowell on January 23 at 6:30 p.m.
“One of my passions is community organizing around poetry and the arts. I’ve been working with a new group named Methuen Arts whose mission is to bring more public art and creative place-making to the Methuen area. I attended the Mill City Grows Harvest Festival this fall with the leader of Methuen Arts, Michelle Leger. We were inspired by your ‘poetry pumpkins.’ [John Wooding of Lowell’s Mill City Grows and Lowell’s City of Learning initiative displayed a mini-anthology of Fall-themed poems by well-known writers on 20 pumpkins set out in the festival area.]
“After seeing that creative installation, we decided to so something similar in Methuen. We put the call out to the Grey Court Poets and other local groups for Holiday and Winter Poems. We got about 50 poems and printed out 29 of them using colorful holiday/winter templates. We made weather-proof banners and hung the poems on a footbridge in Methuen overlooking a waterfall. The project, ‘Words by a Winter Waterfall,’ is very popular and will hang until at least February. Our group is brainstorming more public poetry projects for spring.
“Besides those projects, the Grey Court Poets workshop meets on the first Monday of the month at the Nevins Library in Methuen. We gave several poetry readings last year and will do more in 2019. We’ll be the featured poets at the Robert Frost Foundation’s ‘Poetry Hoot’ on January 8 at 7 p.m. at Cafe Azteca in Lawrence.”
Jacquelyn Malone: New Poems, Broadside Contest Winner
December 7, 2018
The first time I read Jacquelyn Malone’s name, it was on a list of writers who had been awarded a prestigious National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. That was around 1990, I think. She was listed as a Lowell resident who had won in the poetry category. I was impressed and a little envious, to be honest.
When we later met, I learned that she had worked in the high-tech sector for companies like IBM and Lotus at the same time that she was writing poems. We became friends over coffee talks in downtown Lowell. In recent years, she has been active with the Mass Poetry organization that produces the annual Massachusetts Poetry Festival in Salem, Mass.
She is the author of a poetry chapbook (or pamphlet) called All Waters Run to Lethe (Finishing Line Press), and her work has appeared in many literary journals, including Poetry magazine in Chicago, Poetry Northwest, and the Beloit Poetry Journal, all top-tier publications.
She will have two poems in the next issue of Salamander and another is due in Naugatuck River Review, where she was a semi-finalist in the narrative poetry category. This year, she was one of three winners of the Tupelo Press broadside contest. The broadside or poem printed on a large sheet, often done in letter-press format with an illustration, will be available in 2019.
Jacquelyn is from Tennessee, a place that has been the source of some of her writing, especially work informed by archival materials like historical letters and records. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Warren Wilson College, where she studied with Louise Gluck and other writers. Recently, she joined Warren Wilson alumni for a reading.
Matt W Miller, “Moving the Chains” on the Writing Field
November 26, 2018
Here’s another in my series of updates on active writers with a local/regional connection. I can see Exeter, N.H., from my house on a hill in Amesbury, so Matt W Miller is close by. Readers of this blog may know him from his Lowell days growing up and during high school. He has degrees from Yale University and Emerson College and earned a Wallace Stegner Fellowship in creative writing from Stanford University several years ago. See details about his new book below. His first book, Cameo Diner, was published by Loom Press, while his second book, Club Icarus, won a national prize as a manuscript, the Vassar Miller Prize in Poetry at the University of North Texas Press. Matt had another good writing year in 2018. The links below provide a lot more information. If you’re wondering about the middle initial (minus the period), Matt added that to his signature because there’s another Matt Miller who is an author, maybe two more guys with the same name. — PM
Dual web image courtesy of The Adroit Journal
In May, Matt W Miller published his third collection of poetry, The Wounded for the Water (Salmon Poetry), reviewed by Kate Hanson Foster in Critical Flame, and was interviewed about the book in The Adroit Journal and on New Hampshire Public Radio.
Recent poems of his have been published or are forthcoming in journals such as Narrative, Carolina Quarterly, Nimrod International, The Common, American Journal of Poetry, Tupelo Quarterly, Hippocampus, and The Birmingham Poetry Review.
He was recently a visiting poet at The University Alabama, Birmingham. He teaches English at Phillips Exeter Academy and lives (and surfs) in New Hampshire with his wife, Emily Meehan, and their children, Delaney and Joseph.
His website is www.mattwmiller.com
Helena Minton: Recent Book, New Poems, & Frost Foundation Work
November 28, 2018
I’ve known Helena Minton since the 1980s, when she was publishing with Alice James Books, a collective effort to bring out the best new poetry, particularly by women writers. Her book The Canal Bed (1985) includes a long poem centered on the Middlesex Canal along with poems that range into different territory. She has always been a strong supporter of literary activity in the Greater Merrimack Valley and the region. Don’t be surprised if you see her at readings in Lowell, Gloucester, and elsewhere.
Her recent chapbook or pamphlet is The Raincoat Colors (Finishing Line Press). Her poems are forthcoming or have recently appeared in The Listening Eye (as the feature poet); The Paddock Review; The Tower Journal; Ibbetson Street; and Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse (Lost Horse Press). In March, she will read in the Chapter & Verse reading series in Jamaica Plain, Mass.
She has served on the board of the Robert Frost Foundation in Lawrence for many years. The Foundation’s executive director is Jessica Marie, who is a writer and the coordinator of administration and outreach at the Middlesex Community College Law Center.
The Frost Foundation held its annual Community Read at the Lawrence Public Library on October 26th, with representatives from the Lawrence History Center, The Elevated Thought Foundation, the Lawrence School Committee, Andover Bread Loaf, Poets Laureate from both Andover and North Andover, a dance group called The Poet Tappers of North Andover, and several other residents, poets, and teachers from the area. Frost Hoots take place on the second Tuesday of each month at Cafe Azteca, Lawrence. There is either a featured reader or a theme and always an open mic. December’s featured reader is Dariana Guerrero.
Novelist David Moloney: Sky-High Advance Notices
December 2, 2018
Bloomsbury Publishing will release David Moloney’s first novel, Barker House, in February 2020. He’s a Lowell resident and graduate of UMass Lowell and Southern New Hampshire University (master’s degree in creative writing). David’s novel has earned outstanding advance notices from well-known writers. He says the book “tells the story of nine guards inside and outside the walls of a county jail as they deal with loneliness and regret.”
Can I stop here and say it is not easy to get your first novel published by a notable publisher like Bloomsbury? The company has offices in New York, London, Sydney, and New Delhi. David is with the New York branch.
Novelist Elizabeth Strout has high praise for the novel: “Here is a voice to listen to! Moloney’s voice is as true as a voice can be. Concise, with the right details rendered perfectly, these sentences come to the reader with marvelous straight forwardness, clean as a bone. This book is about people that many in society may not notice, but they are here; this is a book we need.”
David studied with Andre Dubus III in the English Department at UMass Lowell. You will not read a stronger endorsement than Andre’s regarding this book: “In over thirty years of writing and teaching, I have not witnessed a stronger artistic debut than David Moloney’s; in fact, his novel, Barker House, does not remotely read like a debut, but more as the seasoned work of writer with enormous gifts. With a keen eye for essential detail and a playwright’s ear for dialogue, Mr. Moloney lays bare the inner workings of a county jail from the rarely told point of view of the jailers themselves, and he does so with a writerly passion utterly devoid of sentimentality or artifice of any kind. The result is a deeply satisfying work that will reach into the hearts and minds of many, many readers. This book heralds the arrival of a new and important voice among us.”
Finally, but certainly not the last we will be hearing in the run-up to the book launch, Tony Tulathimutte says, “At a time when mass incarceration is increasingly a feature of American life, David Moloney’s Barker House is a great and important book. Without romanticizing, demonizing, or candy-coating the work of his corrections officers, this book offers an experienced insider’s view of their lives, in stainless-steely prose that easily matches the best of Raymond Carver and John Fante.”
Jack Neary, One Busy Theater Guy
November 23, 2018
Jack Neary is known around Lowell for his theater activities—local, regional, and national. Jack is an alumnus of UMass Lowell, where he was a baseball-playing English major. Not long ago, he and his partners had the Greater Lowell Music Theatre at UMass Lowell’s Durgin Hall, where the company played to about 10,000 people in four years. Jack had a busy 2018, on top of back seat-coaching the Red Sox to a World Championship. — PM
Web photo courtesy of UMass Lowell
Jack Neary: Does He Sleep or Just Nap?
Off-Broadway, a novel, and theatre gigs. Jack Neary of Lowell and now Derry, N.H., doesn’t sleep it seems. This year, Jack published an adaptation of THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW, a play that debuted at Dracut High School and was later produced at the Firehouse Center for Acting Out Productions of Newburyport, Mass. For book-buyers, his AULD LANG SYNE, introduced at the Peterborough Players in New Hampshire; a ten-minute play called IDEOLOGUES (in the anthology IT’S ACADEMIC); and his novel, A BANG BANG PLAY are available at Amazon.com.
He works regularly with Acting Out, writing and directing shows with their company of young actors, most of them presented at the Firehouse Center before enthusiastic audiences. Jack reports, “Recently, we staged a new play of mine, FINAL CURTAIN, with our older kids. I had worked with many of them before, and I was able to write characters in this comedy-thriller based on their individual personas. It was fun, and the kids seemed to have a great time, as did the audience.”
This year, Jack’s play ORAL REPORT was presented at the Boston Theatre Marathon as part of its 20th Anniversary presentations. He was one of five playwrights invited to re-stage one of my early Marathon efforts, while 45 other new ten-minute plays were produced. He also acted for the first time in more than a decade, playing “Nicely Nicely Johnson” in GUYS AND DOLLS at the Majestic Theatre in West Springfield, Mass. Jack says, “I’d always wanted to play the part and never thought I’d get the chance. But I did. Had a blast.”
At the moment, he’s back at Dracut High School directing two short plays of his for presentation in December. The plays are THE NEW LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD (in which Little Red is retiring from Fairy Land and is auditioning possible replacements), and LUNCH MONEY, a comedy with a jab at bullying that received a prize from the Boston School Department a few years ago. He’s also directing my FIRST NIGHT, which debuted professionally at the Merrimack Repertory Theater, at the Actors Studio Theatre at the Tannery in Newburyport, under the auspices of Acting Out. Performances are December 13, 14, 15, and 16. Jack says, “I’m very excited about this. The two actors, John Manning and Jocelyn Duford, are one of the best teams I’ve ever seen in this play.”
Finally, but not least impressive, on December 27, he goes back to Northern Stage in Vermont, to re-stage his TRICK OR TREAT for the off-Broadway production, which opens at the 59E59 Street Theatre on January 12 and runs for six weeks. See the show info HERE. He wrote the show for Gordon Clapp (Emmy Award, NYPD Blue), who will star in the production.
Stephen O’Connor: Killin’ It with Short Stories
December 14, 2018
Writer, teacher, and soccer-man Stephen O’Connor of Lowell has been killing it on the short story front for the past few years, placing 14 stories (six this year) in Lodestone Journal, Southern Pacific Journal, Dimeshow Review, The Sandy River Review, Ricky’s Backyard, The Mark Literary Review, The Literary Nest, Sobotka Literary Journal, Literally Stories, and The Aethlon Journal of Sports Literature.
“Work, Love, and Music” won the short story contest at Helen Literary Magazine, and “St. Lucy’s Day” earned Special Mention honors in Open Road Review.
He also landed a nonfiction piece called “Lalla Rookh and the Great Slide” in the Amsterdam Quarterly.
He’s got enough material for a second volume of stories, following up on his successful Smokestack Lightning collection of 2010. His story “Red Shoes” appeared a few years back in the River Muse Anthology, edited by Lloyd Corricelli and Dave Daniel.
Steve has finished another novel, “No Time to Quit Drinking,” which is ready to be shopped around to publishers.
Emilie-Noelle Provost: First Novel & Back in the Magazine Biz
November 24, 2018
Lowell writer Emilie-Noelle Provost, formerly editor-in-chief at 512 Media Inc. in Methuen, publisher of Merrimack Valley Magazine and The Bean Magazine, is back working at the company after a two-year hiatus. She returned to 512 Media in September as the company’s travel and culture editor. Since 2011, Provost has written MVM’s popular travel column, “Travel Advisory.” She also writes a lifestyle column called “Living Madly” for the magazine as well as various features, book reviews and essays in both MVM and the company’s new title, The Bean Magazine, a national publication focusing on cafe culture, travel and the arts.
North Country Press published Provost’s first novel, The Blue Bottle, in September. A middle-grade adventure story with a female protagonist, the book is set in Rocky Harbor, a fictional fishing village on Massachusetts’ Cape Ann. The Blue Bottle tells the story of 13-year-old Charlotte Hale, the granddaughter of an aging lobsterman, who has been sent to stay for the summer with her grandparents. On the bus ride there, Charlotte meets an eccentric retired teacher who tells her the story of the blue bottle, a local legend that leads her on a high-stakes quest for an ancient glass bottle, reputed to hold within it all the power of the oceans. Order the new novel here.
Provost has recently finished her second novel, which is set to be published sometime in 2019.
Visit emilienoelleprovost.com for more information on Provost’s books and other information.
Dave Robinson, Writer-in-Residence, Portugal
November 30, 2018
Checking in with writer, poet, and multifarious arts guy Dave Robinson, we learned that he’s back from a Writer-in-Residence gig at Cultívamos Cultura in São Luis, Portugal. He was at the arts center in a dual role with his wife and creative partner, Anna Isaak-Ross, an accomplished artist as well as being part of the professional staff at the UMass Lowell Art Department. Anna did a photography residency at the center a few years ago.
While in Portugal, he and Anna collaborated on a project documenting the Portuguese-made Famel motorcycles in the tiny inland towns and small cities of the Alentejo region. They are producing a photography book with the encouragement of Cultivamos Cultura, the UML Art Department, and others.
Dave says, “The book will feature more than 20 Famel owners from 18 to 92 years old! The images and text highlight the beauty of the landscape and culture. The book looks at daily, mostly rural, working life in a place that has mostly avoided complete modernization as seen in other parts of Europe.” He anticipates book-launchings on both sides of the Atlantic next summer.
The author of the substantial Sweeney in Effable, Dave has a new collection of poems that he has sent to several publishers for consideration. The manuscript is a mix of new and older work, including a sonnet cycle exploring the adventures of a high school hockey team. The sonnets link to Dave’s fictional home base, Seawell (blend elements of Seabrook, N.H., and Lowell), the stomping ground and surfing zone for the above-mentioned Sweeney character.
Dave, Anna, and their two children were chased from their North Andover residence by the natural gas disaster in the area this fall. They fared better than a lot of people, but the crisis kept them in temporary housing for a long stretch. They’re back in place, fortunately. Some readers will remember Dave with the Urban Village Arts Series at the National Park Visitor Center several years ago. After Lowell High School, he earned degrees at the University of New Hampshire and San Diego State University (MFA in Creative Writing).
In the photo, Dave has a set of bull horns mounted on an old Famel motorcycle tire. It is the first tool the locals use to begin training horses how to fight bulls in the Portuguese style and tradition.
Kassie Dickinson Rubico and Resi Polixa: On Their Writing Trails
January 3, 2019
Kassie Dickinson Rubico (left) and Resi Polixa
She divides her time between Lowell, Mass., and Vermont now, but I’ll always place Kassie Dickinson Rubico at least partly in Dracut, Mass., where we both grew up and met after high school days. When I was working in Lowell, I always enjoyed seeing her in one of the downtown restaurants or at a sidewalk café where she would be talking to other writers as if it was an afternoon in Paris. In Vermont, she writes in an antique farmhouse along the Rock River in Williamsville. Along with her writing, Kassie teaches at Keene State College in New Hampshire, Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, Mass., and in the Changing Lives Through Literature program of the state’s criminal justice system. Her current writing project is a memoir, short essays, 100-word pieces about her mother’s life.
Kassie’s work has appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guide to Kulchur Creative Journal, Insight Academic Journal, Toska Literary Magazine, The River Muse anthology of Merrimack Valley writers, and other places. A dedicated runner, she has written for Coolrunning.com. See her essay on the RichardHowe blog, which appeared a few years ago, “He Went to the Woods.”
While the teaching gigs squeeze her writing time, she’s been reading plenty: “I finished Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels, four books, wonderful writing. There’s a mini-series on HBO, equally as good. And, of course, I’m never too far from Virginia Woolf. I read My Abandonment by Peter Rock with the Changing Lives students. The movie Leave No Trace is inspired by that book, which is based on the experiences of a father and daughter living in the Oregon woods. Terrific film. The book is just okay. The last third was changed for the movie. At Keene State, my class read Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline, as we explored the consequences of homelessness. And I read My Improvement by Joan Silver, which I finished and read again immediately, something I’ve never done before. Aren’t you glad you asked?”
Resi Polixa (whose pronouns are they/them/theirs) is new to this blog, but may be familiar to some Lowellians as a park ranger at Lowell National Historical Park and participant in the Public Matters leadership program of the Lowell Plan Inc. and National Park Service. After some time away from writing, this was a year for Resi to get back to composing and sending work out to be published.
Three poems are forthcoming in the LGBTQ Center’s publication at Brown University, where Resi attended graduate school. It will be the inaugural issue of the journal called Undone: A Legacy of Queer (Re)Imaginings. The theme is “Queering Across Borders,” which they say “fits perfectly with my work as it often revolves around questions of identity, home, and body.”
“I also participated in the Open By Riot Laughter online workshop for transgender writers held by Winter Tangerine magazine,” they add. “In that workshop, I wrote a lot of pieces that surprised myself in that they were on topics I always felt too anxious to approach. I’m working on refining those pieces some more to get them ready to be sent out.”
Winter Tangerine “aims to disrupt the status quo. To amplify the unheard. To account for the unaccounted. To publish the unconventional, confront the uncomfortable, marvel in the mundane. We are unapologetic. We are firm believers in the power of art to transform, to heal, to revolutionize.”
“In 2019, I’m looking forward to keeping up journaling, writing, and submitting to different places, and maybe applying to various workshops,” Resi says. “I’m hoping also to develop a monthly open mic series for the local LGBTQ community in Lowell so that there is some space for local LGBTQ voices to find expression. My mom, who was a writer and always very supportive of my creative efforts, passed away this year. To honor her, I want to build up more proficiency in Tagalog so I can continue to honor my Filipino culture in my writing.”
Tom Sexton: New Book, New Poem
November 29, 2018
Tom Sexton sent us a new poem from his outpost on the edge of northeast Maine. He and his wife Sharyn split their time between Maine and Alaska. Our readers will recognize Tom’s name from past contributions to this blog. He drops back in to Lowell when he’s on the Atlantic coast and was here several years ago to be inducted into the Lowell High School Alumni Hall of Fame. He’s now retired from teaching at University of Alaska, Anchorage. Recently, he read his poems at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill and talked about the literary legacy of the Merrimack Valley. Look for a report in Merrimack Valley Magazine.
The author of more than a dozen books and a former poetry editor at the Alaska Quarterly Review, Tom has a new collection of poems, Li Bai Rides a Celestial Dolphin Home, from the University of Alaska Press. Author John Morgan praised the “masterful lyricism, humor, and pathos” in the book which make it “a joy to read.”
In the east, Tom is favored for his urban writing as seen in books of Lowell poems like Bridge Street at Dusk (Loom Press) and A Clock with No Hands (Adastra Press), while readers on the West Coast and Pacific Rim are more familiar with his responses to nature and the wild landscape, infused with an appreciation for Asian writers. After a number of years in Maine, that place is beginning to stack up as Sexton territory, too. — PM
White Sheep of the Family
Once, in a town not too far away
from here, there was a family
that seemed to be always in trouble:
a few pills sold, a missing car found
behind their house covered with a tarp.
Even the mother was known to leave
the neighborhood store with a few
things she’d forgotten to pay for.
The sons would break someone’s jaw
if provoked, from time to time if not.
The youngest became a civil servant
and was in all things gracious, civil.
After drinks around the kitchen table
when he had left the room for a minute
they’d smile at each other and begin to sing,
“baa baa white sheep, have you any,”
then, after a very long pause, they’d add, “wool.”
Brian Simoneau: Getting the Poems Out There
December 21, 2018
Brian Simoneau gave a poetry reading at Mill No. 5 when his first book, River Bound, came out a few years ago. Lowell, Mass., is all over this book. The poetry grapevine had carried news about him to me in the city. I was glad to meet him because we have a lot in common, including baseball, French Canadian-American roots, and mutual admiration for poet and teacher Garrett Hongo with whom Brian studied in the University of Oregon Master of Fine Arts program in creative writing. I was a student of Garrett’s in the MFA program at the University of California, Irvine, long before.
Local folks may recall Brian’s father’s car repair shop near the corner of Mammoth Road and Riverside Street, A’s Auto Cool, specializing in radiator repair. Growing up in Pawtucketville, Brian was a catcher in the neighborhood baseball league, PYO, and attended Ste. Jeanne d’Arc School. After Central Catholic High School in Lawrence, where he ran track, he went to Amherst College, followed by graduate school at Boston University (English & American Lit) and then the writing program in Oregon. He’s had a work-study scholarship to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Vermont and an Emerging Writer Fellowship from the Writer’s Center in Maryland.
Brian lives with his wife, Tregony, a pediatric pulmonologist, and their three daughters, aged ten, seven, and two-and-a-half, in West Hartford, Conn. There’s no need for a dad with three small kids to explain himself when a curious reporter asks what he’s been up to but Brian said, “ I’m slow to respond mostly because I’ve been a bit unplugged from the internet this month—some poet-friends and I are ending the year with a 31/31 challenge in which we’re all trying to write a new poem for each day of December. So far, I’ve got 14 new drafts in the first 14 days of the month, which feels pretty great to me—I haven’t been writing very much (or very well) this year. In fact, before these past couple of weeks, I’d only managed to finish a couple of new poems this year.
“I’ve learned to see these periods of not-writing as fallow periods, time for thinking and reading and keeping a journal and slowly moving back toward a writing practice. So, I’ve been reading as much as I can, especially poetry. My absolute favorite books I read this year, though, were Jesmyn Ward’s novel Sing, Unburied, Sing and Hanif Abdurraquib’s essay collection They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us. For poetry, I really enjoyed The Carrying by Ada Limón and Radioapocrypha by BK Fischer. I also spent a lot of time revisiting the poems of both Li-Young Lee and Lucie Brock-Broido.”
Brian has an innovative signature project on Facebook that I call his rolling picture-of-a-page anthology which involves posting a photo of a poem he likes from a recent book or literary magazine. It’s a generous gesture, helping to increase the visibility of another writer’s work, especially writers who are breathing among us.
“Whenever I love a poem, I want to share it with someone else who might love it too. I’m always having ‘Whoa, you’ve got to read this’ moments, but since I spend almost all of my waking hours with our two-and-a-half-year old, I mostly find myself sharing things online. I’ve been posting poems to Facebook and hoping to build a bigger audience for the poems I love. Over on Twitter (at twitter.com/brian_simoneau), I post poems even more often and share lots of posts from my favorite readers and writers.”
He had a good writing year, publishing new work in several journals: Four poems in issue 45.2 of Colorado Review; his most recent poem about Lowell, “The City I Come From Responds,” appeared in Third Coast; and poems in Four Way Review and Poet Lore 113.2. Two poems are forthcoming: “Winter’s Come and Gone” in the next issue of Sugar House Review and “Morning Begins with Dark” will be in Salamander next year.
His book River Bound is available from C&R Press, amazon.com, and Small Press Distribution.
Meg Smith: Writer in Full Stride
December 27, 2018
Meg Smith is in full stride as a writer. She says 2018 has been “a full and blessed” year. She published her book This Scarlet Dancing (Emu Press) and placed poems and short fiction in several literary magazines and journals, including Café Review, The Literary Hatchet, Strange Horizons, and Star*Line, Journal of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association. In This Scarlet Dancing, readers will find “poems of love, loss, the natural and supernatural, and the darkest and brightest spaces of imagination . . . snapshots of a life deeply felt, filled with experiences that are worth remembering.”
Meg is a poet, journalist, dancer, and events producer living in Lowell, Mass. An award-winning reporter with Gatehouse Media for 16 years, she has also written for the Sentinel & Enterprise in Fitchburg and Sun newspaper of Lowell. Meg is familiar to many people in the city as one of the long-time organizers of the annual Kerouac literary festival, Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! Meg and Lawrence Carradini, her late husband, made an enormous effort to keep the festival growing and going forward. Since 1988, there hasn’t been one year without the event. In tribute to Larry, she donated his poetry manuscripts and correspondence to the UMass Lowell Center for Lowell History at the Mogan Cultural Center in downtown Lowell. The Center mounted an exhibition of the documents this past year.
A trip to Ireland to visit family members was a high point of her year. “I went to some amazing places in Ireland’s literary history, including Trinity College, the house of Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, and the National Library of Ireland, which had breath-taking exhibit of the life and work of William Butler Yeats.”
Looking to 2019, a new book, Shadow Island, is due in the Fall, and poems are forthcoming in PoetryBay, Hello Horror, and others.
Meg maintains a busy public schedule, with Middle East dance performances and poetry readings this past year at the Dire Literary Reading Series at the Middle East Restaurant, Cambridge; First And Last Word at Arts at The Armory, Somerville; Lizard Lounge Poetry Jam , with live music by the Jeff Robinson Trio, in Cambridge; Lovecrafts Arts & Sciences Council in Providence, Rhode Island; and local spots such as the The Hearing Room, Brew’d Awakening’s Untitled Open Mic, and Cappy’s Copper Kettle for the Kerouac fest in Lowell.
Sarah Sousa: A Fruitful Creative Path
January 16, 2019
I met Sarah Sousa a few years ago at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival in Salem, Mass. She was there with friends from Perugia Press, an independent publishing company in Florence, Mass. Perugia publishes one title a year, a first or second book by a woman whose manuscript has won the press’s annual prize contest. I had heard she had grown up in Dracut, as I had some years before, and wanted to meet her. She has an extraordinary story, one that should encourage any young person who is inclined to creative activities. Sarah talks about a writer listening “deep inside yourself for guidance” and following a creative path that fits with your interests, ambition, and vision. She already has a remarkable body of work and is moving forward with great momentum. She will return to Dracut in the fall in a Dracut Arts program.
Sarah is the author of the poetry collections See the Wolf (2018): Split the Crow (2015) and Church of Needles (2014) She also edited and transcribed The Diary of Esther Small, 1886 (2014), which won the New England Book Festival Award for Regional Literature. Her poems have appeared in the Massachusetts Review, Fourteen Hills, the Southern Poetry Review, Verse Daily and Tupelo Quarterly, among others. Her honors include a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship, the Anne Halley Prize, and a 2016 Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowship (the top state award for writers). She has an MFA in creative writing from Bennington College.
For this blog’s series of updates on writers with links to the Lowell area and region, Sarah talked about her background:
“I was born in Lowell and grew up in Dracut in the 1980s, graduating from Dracut High School in 1990. That was back when each part of town had its own elementary school. I went to Greenmont Avenue School in Dracut Center, where my mom and dad had also gone. Back then, everyone converged at Englesby Junior High for 7th and 8th grades. At Dracut High, I took theater for a couple years and acted in a few plays, but I was generally a shy, average student. In fact, I was encouraged by the principal at the time to essentially ‘shoot low’ (not his words but the gist of the conversation) when applying to college as my grades weren’t that great.
“There really isn’t a place for a budding poet in the public-school curriculum. If you like to write poetry and stories, teachers expect you to be an A-student in grammar and literature classes, however, dissecting a paragraph and studying a story for themes and symbolism aren’t the same as playing with words or quietly sitting with a poem to see how it speaks to you. I wish schools would make space for the literary arts in the same way they do the visual and performing arts. I wasn’t drawn to the art room in high school, though I’ve since found that creative part of my personality, and I wasn’t a natural performer. A shy, average student who likes to express herself through language and read for pleasure can fall between the cracks at school. It would be great if schools had literary arts rooms with magnetic poetry, texts to cut up and repurpose or black-out for erasure poetry, quiet corners with shelves of books to read, lots of notebooks, collaborative areas and some basic desktop publishing.”
She stayed local to start college, going to Middlesex Community College when it was still in the Boott Cotton Mills in Lowell.
“Every day I walked past the glassed-in room with clacking looms where tours were given and thought about my French Canadian and Portuguese relatives who worked there in the late 1800s and into the 20th century. I took my first creative writing class at Middlesex and decided I wanted to be a writer. I transferred to Bradford College in Haverhill and majored in Creative Writing, taking both fiction and poetry classes, a lot of focused literature classes like Women’s lit and a class exclusively studying Kafka and Borges
“Bradford College, which closed about 15 years ago, was an amazing little arts college. There was dance, photography, sculpture, theater, painting, writing, every branch of the creative arts, and the professors were practitioners. Bradford was my first real exposure to a creative community, to a community of creative thinkers who were unabashedly unique, bordering on eccentric. I loved it. It was at Bradford that I realized I wasn’t going to college just to step into a job title/role at the end. I had found myself at a college that would allow me to discover who I was and who I wanted to become, to at least scratch the surface.
“I entered college more inhibited, immature, and less worldly by far than my peers. I was the first in my working-class family to go to college. Vacation meant camping at the White Mountains, I had never been out of New England, never mind the country, I had never flown on a plane. My parents were both encouraging, my mother put herself in debt to see me through college, but neither had been to college so they couldn’t advise me on what to expect or how to succeed. Also, neither were artists. The first time I had to go home and revise a poem for a class I wept because I didn’t even know where to begin. I had no idea what I was doing. The thing with artists and creatives is that we’re all artsy and creative in our own ways. To be an artist means being different, following your own solitary creative path, listening deep inside yourself for guidance. A writer spends some of her most fulfilling, as well as most challenging, time in life completely alone. None of these skills are taught in our culture or even respected. And unlike performers, a lot of writers are quiet and introverted, people who don’t really want to stand out as ‘different’ or stand up to be looked at and listened to. I feel really lucky that I wound up in environments of higher education that nurtured the latent poet in me and allowed me to take my time.”
Sarah’s third collection See the Wolf from CavanKerry Press came out last April, so she was busy with promotional readings and events in 2018. She lives in a small, rural town in the foothills of the Berkshires not too far from the hubs of Amherst and Northampton, where reading opportunities for poets abound. Sarah will be back in Dracut in September to give a lecture and poetry reading entitled “’All beat out and tired’: Abuse, Self-Disclosure, and Taboo in 19th Century Women’s Diaries.” Her focus will be the 1886 diary of Esther Small, an abused Maine farmwife, which she found at an antique store in 2008 and subsequently published in its entirety along with genealogical research into Esther’s family and her own critical writing around 19th century women’s diaries.
What’s coming up in 2019? “I probably won’t have as many readings and lectures scheduled in the coming year, but I’ll be beginning and finishing some projects as well as seeing at least one new publication into the world. My chapbook titled ‘Yell’ just won the C&R Press Summer Tidepool Chapbook Competition and will be published in summer 2019. ‘Yell’, at about 30 pages, is an erasure of the long short-story ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, written in the late 1800s by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.
“In typical erasure, a poet blacks-out any word on a page that she doesn’t want. The remaining words, usually in the order they appear in the text, are her poem. For my project, any word on a page was fair game. I didn’t black-out words in the order they appeared, I just used the language on any given page as my poem’s vocabulary; never all the words, but sometimes more than others. Each page yielded one poem, sometimes two if the language was really provocative on that page. The Yellow Wallpaper is about an oppressed housewife, a would-be writer, who is prescribed rest and idleness for a nervous mind. The complete lack of stimulation and inactivity slowly drive her mad. The poems are ultimately informed by the story, but a kind of alternate reality of the story where the woman discovers her complex and true nature through her delve into madness. In the original, the main character goes completely mad and ends up crawling on all fours. In my version, a kind of classic ‘hero’s journey,’ she goes to the darkest place and resurfaces scarred but liberated.”
Sarah is also finishing a fourth book-length poetry manuscript, which will go to CavanKerry for consideration this winter, and has literary and personal essays in progress. I’m fascinated by her recent project, a food history blog in which she writes about testing historical recipes. It’s called “Emancipation Pie.”
She explained: “I collect ephemera: diaries, photos, scrapbooks, and own several recipe scrapbooks from the late 1800s to the 1920s. It was common for women, and sometimes girls, to snip recipes from cookbooks and newspaper columns, as well as handwrite recipes from neighbors and relatives and paste them into scrapbooks. These scrapbooks were usually repurposed state, town or agricultural reports, so there’s often an interesting hide and seek between the original text and the pasted-in recipes. Alongside recipes, these women included household tips and herbal remedies for common ailments; I have one for diphtheria. I focus on baked goods: cookies, pies, cakes, breads (quick and yeast) and post photos as well as process. Many of the old recipes aren’t detailed like contemporary ones. I’m also cooking from vintage and antique cookbooks. The name of the blog is an actual lemon pie recipe I found in one of my scrapbooks. It has three pie crusts, one in the center of the pie, and includes raisins. I’ve yet to make this pie. It’s one of those recipes with scant information so I’ll have to devise my own methods. I’m also posting photos from my antique photo collection and sometimes blog about one scrapbook or cookbook in particular without an accompanying recipe.”
Live Poetry in Lowell
by Janet Egan and Paul Marion (Jan 5, 2019)
Lowell has been long-famous for Golden Gloves boxing matches at the Memorial Auditorium, but there’s a different competition for which the city has become well known. Every first and third Tuesday of the month, writers and their audience get together for the Untitled Open Mic at Brew’d Awakening Coffeehauson Market Street. Part of the nightly format is a poetry slam that qualifies participants for the Mill City Slam team.
How does a Poetry Slam work? This form of performance poetry or spoken word poetry is traced back to Chicago, Illinois, in 1984, a movement that added elements of theatre and sports to the presentation of poems. Another twist was the addition of judges pulled from the audience who ranked the competitors as the contest narrowed to a winner for the night. Reading poems in public is not new, in fact, that’s the root of the art form, storytelling. Dylan Thomas, Robert Frost, and other household name poets added to their popularity by reading to audiences. Through the mid-twentieth century, readings of this kind were common at universities and cultural institutions. But then came the Beat Generation writers of the 1950s, whose inclination was to follow Walt Whitman’s advice: “Unscrew the locks from the doors! Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!” In nightclubs, from festival stages, on benches in city parks, the Beats stood up and spoke out in a fresh way. It’s fitting that Lowell has a strong open mic culture in Jack Kerouac’s hometown.
In Lowell, Douglas Bishop is the slam master for the Mill City Slam. Last summer, Mill City once again sent a team to the National Poetry Slam in Chicago. The 2018 team representing Mill City in Chicago included Danielle “Scribbles” Bennett, Alex Hicks, Amanda Malnati, Mike Linehan, and Ricky Orng. Alternate members who represented Mill City in Northbeast regional competition when needed included Douglas Bishop, Joe Bordeleau, and Thea Harris. Scribbles, who has since moved to Arizona, was also one of the coaches of the Billerica (Mass.) Poetry Club, a poetic phenomenon of youth writers. They reached the semifinals at Louder than a Bomb (LTAB) in 2018. Lowell’s award-winning slam group, FreeVerse!, did not send a team in 2018.
One of the veterans of FreeVerse! is Febo (Anthony Febo) of Lowell and now Jamaica Plain, who was profiled in this series last month. He shared with us the news that Free Verse! is part of a three-year development grant from the state Cultural Council for youth poetry slam leaders in Boston, Worcester, and Lowell.
FreeVerse! alum Hailey Tran, who is highly talented, socially conscious, and “very Lowell,” won the 2018 Yung House Grand Slam Championship (a youth-led slam group in Roxbury, Mass.) and earned a place on the MassLEAP (Massachusetts Literary, Education, and Performance collective) international youth poetry slam team that went to the Brave New Voices festival in Texas last July. A student at Simmons University in Boston, she’s involved with the MassLEAP program for youth spoken word leaders. Another Lowellian and FreeVerse! alum is Elmer Martinez, who is in his senior year at Emerson College in Boston, where he is studying lighting design and dancing, while still doing poetry. This past fall Elmer was a featured presenter at Brew’d Awakening and at the Lizard Lounge in Boston. Two of Elmer’s poems are in the anthology Untitled from the Untitled: 10 Years of Spoken Word and Slam in Lowell, MA (Broken Head Press, 2017).
Co-author of this post, Janet Egan, is represented in the Lowell spoken-word anthology–PM
Several of the poets mentioned here are among the 24 writers in the Untitledanthology. This is an important publication, especially when taken together with an earlier book, Young Angel Midnight: An Emerging Generation in the Arts in Lowell,a showcase for writers, visual artists, and musicians, edited by Ryan Gallagher and Derek Fenner and published in 2011 by Bootstrap Press of Lowell in partnership with the Cultural Organization of Lowell. A spokesperson for the Massachusetts Cultural Council said at the time that no other community in Massachusetts had done such an ambitious project to promote its emerging artists. The book received a New England Art Award in 2012.
Young poets in Lowell (photo: Douglas Bishop)
Every October, the Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! literary festival sponsors a high-school poetry slam at Lowell High School. The 2018 winners were recognized at the Brew’d open mic last month. Of particular note is Mablean Ntoro, who won the Kerouac in 2017 and placed second in 2018. For more information about poetry slams, Louder than a Bomb, MassLeap, and FreeVerse! (Merrimack Valley Magazine article), follow these links
Paul Marion: Back in the Writing Saddle
Many of our readers know that Paul wrapped up his long career at UMass Lowell in early 2016 and subsequently relocated to downriver in Amesbury last May with his wife Rosemary, who retired from her longtime job at the Lowell Plan, where she managed the Public Matters leadership program. Paul quickly turned his attention to writing, editing, and publishing in a way that he had not been able to since he was in his twenties and starting out on his writing path. Rosemary has stayed involved in community affairs, serving on boards at the Pollard Library, New England Quilt Museum, and Lowell Cemetery.
I asked him to summarize what’s been going on lately.
“Thanks, Dick. It’s been a busy couple of years. Of course, we did the big blog book, History As It Happens, covering ten years of the RichardHowe blog, through my Loom Press (40 years and counting), and Loom Press put out a collection of Michael Casey’s poems, new and selected work (There It Is), which earned strong reviews. And I was lucky enough to get my book Union River: Poems and Sketches published by Bootstrap Press of Lowell. Ryan Gallagher did a super job on the cover design.
“In the pipeline is a book called Haiku Sky from superlargeprint.com books on the west coast. When I heard what Brendan Gaylord is doing with books for low-vision readers (he’s the son of my longtime friends Susan and Charlie Gaylord of Newburyport), I thought haiku with so few words would be interesting to try on the pages with large type. Brendan liked the idea, so the project is underway. Jennifer Myers gave permission to use one of her remarkable photographs on the cover, an image of red maple leaves in fresh snow from a storm this past November. I hope to have the book in late spring. The haiku are ones I’ve written in the past 40 years. Brendan works mostly with material that is in the public domain, from Lincoln’s speeches to vintage fiction and sections of the Bible. I’m the first 21st-century writer for his company. He started doing the books one at a time for his grandmother who was running out of large-print books to read. With the haiku, the book with be both a visual and literary statement.
“I’ve been writing pieces for the new Bean Magazine, a spin-off of the popular Merrimack Valley Magazine. Bean is aimed at coffee lovers and the coffeehouse culture with articles about beverages, travel, food, the arts, lifestyle, and more. MVM publisher Glenn Prezzano did a deal to get Bean in hundreds of Barnes and Noble bookstore cafes around the country. The second issue is due on the street any minute. I wrote the cover story about MRT’s upcoming Kerouac play. Editor Doug Sparks worked with his design team to develop a stunning cover that is an homage to a famous Spider-Man comic cover. Kerouac loved the comics in his day and drew some himself. I also did the “On Coffee” interview with British writer Ben Myers, whose novel The Gallows Pole will be published in America this year, the first fiction from rock musician Jack White’s publishing company, Third Man Books. He’s got a record label by that name also.
“And I’m working with poet and painter Chath pierSath on preparing a big collection of his poems. Chath has been around the area for a long time. He has a master’s degree in community psychology from UMass Lowell. We’ve had a few of his poems on the blog. He’s involved with a vegetable-and-fruit farm in Bolton down Route 495 and travels to France and Cambodia for his art and interest in social issues. Last year, a gallery in Paris showed his new paintings. He has a strong body of work that should be out there. He intends to submit the collection to high-profile manuscript competitions run by university presses and top independent publishers.”
In May, Globe Pequot Books will release Geoffrey Douglas’s collection of magazine articles from his days at Yankee magazine. Geoffrey has been writing for the UMass Lowell alumni magazine for many years and is the author of several books including The Classmates, about his time at St. Paul’s prep school with the likes of John Kerry and Robert Mueller, and The Game of Their Lives, the story of the 1950 World Cup soccer match between the U.S. and England, which was won by the Americans against all odds. The book became a movie. The new book is The Grifter, the Poet, and the Runaway Train: Stories from a Yankee Writer’s Notebook, and our friend and co-blogger is the poet in the title—Geoffrey’s 2009 Yankee story about Paul,“The Man Who Loves Lowell,” is reprinted in the new volume. Congratulations to Geoffrey. We’ll be watching for this one. Here’s the link.
A final note. Paul’s been working on what he calls “a memory book” since the fall, a book of creative nonfiction that revisits his time as a kid and young guy in Dracut, from the mid-1950s to 1980. Although born when his family was living in Centralville, he moved to Dracut early on and stayed there through college and a little after. He says it’s an “episodic memoir” about the first wave of suburban pioneers after World War II. There’s a lot about his parents and French Canadian ancestors as well as what it was like to grow up in the time of President Kennedy, the Beatles, the Vietnam War, and moon landing–and it’s about his first steps on a writing path. He’ll tell us more as the book shapes up in the next few months. He’s got 65,000 words so far. There’s no publisher for this one yet.
Emily Ferrara: Drawn to Lowell by the Arts
Starting last fall, my blogger-colleague Paul Marion began posting updates on local writers and poets who Paul found were doing “interesting and substantial things” with their work. That effort has yielded 22 writer profiles and has reminded us of others who should be included on the roster and introduced us to people new to the community.
Emily Ferrara is in that latter category. She is primarily a poet but is experimenting with the visual arts, especially painting, drawing and photography. She works out of a studio at the Gates Block and exhibits her photography at the Arts League of Lowell (ALL) Coop Gallery and two years ago moved to Lowell from the Worcester area. The reason she was in Worcester was because of her 30+ year career in health care and medicine as an educator, grant writer, project manager and advocate. She maintains a faculty appointment at UMass Medical School where she has taught doctor-patient communication, cultural competence in medicine, creative writing.
Because I like speaking with writers and because I’m always interested in why someone moves to Lowell (a consequence of my long-ago observation that most people aspired to leave the city), I recently met Emily at Brewed Awakening to learn more about her and her work.
Google her name – Emily Ferrara – and you’ll find that she is already a substantial and respected poet. (Check out her profile on Poets & Writers website). Her poems are published in literary journals, magazines and anthologies, and she has been featured on the public radio program “The Poet and the Poem at the Library of Congress.” She is a Pushcart Prize nominee, and winner of the Frank O’Hara Award from the Worcester County Poetry Association. Most recently, her poems appear in Poet Trees, an art book of photographs and the poems inspired by them.
In her award-winning poetry collection, The Alchemy of Grief, (Bordighera Press 2007) Emily explores a mother’s grief following the death of her 19-year-old son. In one of the poems, “Bad News in the ER”, she uses dialogue to convey the rawness of the ER experience. She explained that the experience depicted in the poem was surreal because as a professor who taught doctors in training how to break bad news, she found her own receipt of the catastrophic news about her son both devastating as a mother but also an involuntary exercise in evaluating the doctor’s technique. This incredibly powerful poem is available online.
Emily was drawn to Lowell by the city’s vibrant arts scene and while she is doing much with the visual arts, she still sees herself as a poet first. She hopes to also become active in Literary Lowell – look for her as a reader at next weekend’s On The Road Marathon – and would love to help create a virtual clearinghouse of activities, readings and events to publicize the breadth of offerings and raise the profile of Literary Lowell.
As for what’s next for her as a writer, Emily said that she is at work on a new manuscript, challenging herself to experiment with a new lexicon. “I’ve sworn off words my life has overused. It’s too easy to fall back on the familiar,” she says, “both in language and in form. What better way to experiment than in a new city, especially one known as a breeding ground for reinvention.”
Emily closed our talk by saying her dream is to bring poetry, literature and the arts into right relation with social justice, empowerment and public health movements.