Monday, May 21, 2007

An Afternoon with Bob Clawson

Bob Clawson: Sharing his experience with poet Anne Sexton at the Wilderness House Literary Retreat.

Doug Holder

On May 19 at the Wilderness House Literary Retreat in Littleton, Mass. poet, writer, journalist, educator Bob Clawson talked with a group of literature lovers about his friendship with the acclaimed, Pulitzer-Prize winning poet, the late Anne Sexton. Clawson showered his audience with his fascinating anecdotes and experiences with Sexton, who wrote “To Bedlam and Part Way Back,” among other critically acclaimed poetry collections.

Clawson explained that he was teaching English at Weston High School in Weston, Mass. in 1963. He had students read the works of contemporary poets to stoke the interest of his young charges. While reading Sexton’s poem “Menstruation at 40” in the faculty room, the gym teacher asked Clawson if he was a fan of Sexton. When he answered in the affirmative; the teacher said he was a friend of the poet and he would introduce him to her.

It seems that Sexton lived in Weston, and she eventually invited Clawson for a visit. Clawson described Sexton as being not what he expected for a lady poet of the time. She was certainly not dowdy and was adorned in a shocking pink dress. Eventually Sexton read at Weston High School and was a great hit. They needed a large auditorium to handle the crowd the second time around.

Sexton campaigned to be Poet-In-Residence at Weston High, but it seems the headmaster felt she shamelessly flirted with him and told Clawson, “We can’t have this here!’

Clawson was reluctant to talk of Sexton’s mental illness that eventually lead to her suicide. Clawson recalled: “She wasn’t really diagnosed. She told me she heard voices.. Her husband, a wool merchant, was said to have beaten her, which couldn’t help matters.” According to Clawson, Sexton would sometimes call him around midnight and want him come to her house stating “I’m desperate.”

For such an accomplished poet it is surprising that she never finished college. Clawson said she eloped during junior college and never went back. She was self-educated and widely read. Clawson said he was always under the impression he was speaking with a highly intelligent and knowledgeable person.

Sexton had eclectic tastes, and could not be placed in one particular school of poetry. She respected Allen Ginsberg, and was not a snob about who she admired. And although she had no formal higher education, she was welcomed with open arms by the academy according to Clawson.

Later, Clawson, Sexton, and a couple of musicians put together a “chamber rock” group to put Sexton’s poems to music. The groups name “Anne Sexton and Her kind.” Her poems were adapted to the demands of musical composition. Sexton read while the musicians complimented her with accomplished guitar and bass accompaniment.”

The group had many gigs from the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, Mass., the Sanders Theatre at Harvard University, to venues throughout the country.

Sexton found the concerts extremely draining, and could only do a limited amount. But from the musical tapes that Clawson brought in, it was evident that she was an accomplished performer with a beautiful and haunting voice, not to mention breathtaking poetry.

Doug Holder

For more information about the Wilderness House Literary Retreat go to:

Monday, August 07, 2006

"Close the Goddamn Door!:An Afternoon with Louisa Solano: Memories of the Grolier Poetry Book Shop"

At the Wilderness House Literary Retreat Louisa Solano, former owner of the Grolier Poetry Book Shop held court for a few hours of casual conversation concerning her experiences running the famed Harvard Square book shop for over 30 years. It seems that almost every major contemporary poet passed through these doors at one time. Here is a sampler of what Solano had to say about the times and poets she knew:

Gordon Cairnie: (the founder of the store) ?These goddamn browsers, close the goddamn, door!? This was a declaration often heard by Solano. Cairnie was ?quirky,? and did have a temper according to Solano. Solano said, ?After I bought the store I had a whole line of people who told me that Gordon ruined them emotionally. It was the way he talked to them.? Cairnie in part was reacting to the browsers who never bought a book, and the ones who shoplifted. Obviously keeping people out of the store was not good business sense. But Solano felt there was a prevailing attitude at the time that poets were abused by society, so poetry and commerce were viewed as totally separate entities.

After he died Solano recalled that many folks thought it was a ?sin? that she took over the store.

Solano on shoplifting; ?According to a study 98% of people steal. People steal because it is an adventure, a high. It?s like shooting up; you have to do more and more. You become an expert on justification.? Solano said that studies indicate that shoplifting is highest among people in religious orders. She recalled that a monk with a flowing robe ripped her off. She said, ?His robe was a little less flowing when he went out.?

Solano on Harvard Square: Whatever part of the country people come from, the suburbs or little working communities, they come to the square and reality diminishes. She said:?People are walking in a state of grandeur. I remember being accompanied down the street by someone who said he was going to kill me because I was a Harvard capitalist!?

Solano on Robert Lowell: ?I met him twice. I thought he was homeless. He was carrying two bags full of newspapers, and he was disheveled. The first time he said to me: ?Young lady. I want you to know that Gordon talked too much, and you should never do that.? He walked out of the store. A week later he came and said, ?Young lady. You are not following Gordon. You don?t talk to customers.? I found out later that this was Robert Lowell.?

?I went to Lowell?s memorial service. Not one person mentioned his poetry. They all talked about his family. His family felt he should not have been a writer. It was not a proper occupation for his class.?

Solano?s favorite poet: ?Philip Levine. He has always been my favorite. I think his approach to poetry is wide open. He loved an audience. He was a great standup comic. I loved the love he had for the Jewish community. I really love him.?

Solano on the small press; ?I always thought the small press was the most interesting part of poetry. When I took over the store there was a big small press movement going on. This was the 70?s. Some magazines were printed on colored tissue papers, different sizes, etc? Most of the bigger presses were publishing Lowell, Sexton and Plath. They were not particularly democratic. Diana Di Prima was first published by a small press and then started her own, and it is still going strong. She has done translations, and poetry publishing. The University of Texas/Austin was wild about the small press. They probably now (besides the University of Buffalo) have the best small press collection.?

?Black Sparrow Press? started out selling books with three or four poems for a dollar. Most of the bookstores today would not accept these.?

?Even if you were published just in the small press; the fact is you are in a book on a public shelf. Then if things went well you would do another small press book. If things continued to go well, you would get known.

Solano on Charles Bukowski: ?He sent his poems out virtually everyday to every small press magazine out there. This totally admonished the myth of him as a disorganized drunk. He wouldn?t be able to do this if he was.?

Solano on Ed Hogan of ?Aspect? magazine and ?Zephyr Press?; ?Ed was brilliant. He had a lot of energy. He talked endlessly and rapidly. He got a great group of local poets together, and got the magazine out.?

Solano on Allen Ginsberg. ?I loved Allen. When he died I thought the world would cave in. He visited the store when he was quite ill. He looked yellowish and diminished. I was shocked. I thought of him as immortal. He brought poetry in the open from a very closed 1950?s America.?

Jack Kerouac: ?When I first met him he was sitting down at Lowell House. (Harvard University.) He was wearing a checkered shirt, and sloppy chinos, partly because he was so fat. The audience loved him because he was what they expected. He was the crazy writer. At the end of the reading, Desmond O?Grady, a wild Irish poet (I was madly in love with him), and I escorted him to a bar in Cambridge. There was a young woman who announced to Kerouac and all the guys around him that she wanted a ?multiple lay.? Kerouac didn?t do anything and just waddled off to the bar. We got him back to where he was staying and he passed out.

?The next day we met him at the Oxford Grill on Church St. in Harvard Square. The news came out that Plath committed suicide. Desmond threw his arms around Jack and very dramatically said ?We are the only ones left.? Jack said,? Stay away from me.? He was homophobic. The last we saw of him he was walking down Church St. with two Harvard undergraduates looking for the perfect ?Gold,? marijuana.

Doug Holder/Ibbetson Update/ Aug 2006/Somerville, Mass.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Interview with Louisa Solano/ Guest Aug 5,2006

The Grolier Poetry Bookshop: An Interview with Louisa Solano by Doug Holder
The acclaimed poet Donald Hall said of The Grolier Poetry Bookshop: "It is the greatest poetry place in the universe." And this may not be hyperbole. Founded in 1927 by Gordon Cairnie, and Adrian Gambet, it was the first bookstore in the Cambridge area to sell James Joyce's Ulysses. In its salad days the likes of T.S. Eliot, Allen Ginsberg, Marianne Moore, and countless other poets patronized this store. Louisa Solano, the current owner, has been connected with the store for over forty years, first as a worker, and later as an owner. Solano changed the original Grolier, to an all-poetry bookstore, probably the most prominent in the country and perhaps the world. Solano told an interviewer that the bookstore was much more than a seller of books. In its prime Solano said the place was "packed with people, reading books and discussing poetry." Due to escalating rents, the Internet, and the difficulty with competing chain bookstores, Solano has been forced to sell this haven for poets on Plympton St., in the heart of Harvard Square, Cambridge. I talked with Solano on my Somerville Community Access TV show Poet to Poet/Writer To Writer.

Doug Holder: What was the straw that broke the camel's back that made you need to put the business up for sale?
Louisa Solano: I essentially have been supporting the store on my charge card for the past two or three years. I have no real money of my own. It came to the point when I had to pay, and I just couldn't. And also one year there was a very heavy theft in the store, and I couldn't recover from it.
This store actually existed on mail-order business for many years. In 1998 the Internet started coming up, and gradually ate up my business. Poetry is the texture of life and language, and if you don't have it on an actual page in front of you, you are losing your language.

Doug Holder: In an interview with a group of Emerson College students you said of the original owner, Gordon Cairnie: "Gordon was famous for his postcards and correspondence with everybody. He never sold books, he never paid bills, and he just wrote postcards. And he was cantankerous. People who would come into the shop would leave insulted. How have you changed things?
Louisa Solano: I don't write postcards, I send emails. I do sell books. I try not to be cantankerous, but admittedly I have my moments.
I have Temporal Lobe Epilepsy. I was diagnosed in my 40's. I know people have accused me of looking through them or being a snob. Actually when I am doing this it may very be in the midst of a Petite Mal. People say that I sometimes yell at them or say some really horrible things, but quite frankly I have no memory of it most of the time. It's unfortunate when people have that experience of me, because since I am not aware of it I can't do anything about it. To apologize is to say I am responsible, but I am really not. People don't comprehend how this disease controls one's personality. Sometimes the way you speak comes out like Tourette's Syndrome.

Doug Holder: It doesn't seem that you had warm, fuzzy feelings for Gordon Cairnie.
Louisa Solano: I was often in there when I was 15 or 16 years old. He let me sit in the shop. And as a lot of the younger people came along, he did the same thing. We could project on him the "second father" and things like that. When I first came to the Grolier he was not cantankerous. I understand that he had an accident that changed his personality. Gordon's social life centered on Harvard international students and the B-School. It was a very sophisticated group that hung around the store. So the whole group that surrounded him was urbane and well educated. And you had the students from The Harvard Advocate. At this time there was also a great sense of warmth.

Doug Holder: Could Cairnie be called a snob?
Louisa Solano: Cairnie was very class conscious. Gordon definitely liked people who were upper class, had money, were beautiful. There was a sign on that door that read "No Law Books" "No Text Books". It was very confusing and ugly for the younger people and students who hung out there. When I took over the first thing I did was to take down the signs. I democratized it out of the white male poet syndrome and moved the store to more involvement with the community.

Doug Holder: How as it for a woman to run a bookstore, when it was a mostly male-dominated business?
Louisa Solano: I was chronically, acutely shy. I hardly ever opened my mouth. I never talked. I was the youngest person there usually.I took over the store in Jan. 1974 after Cairnie died. It took me over 10 years of owning the store to get any kind of confidence or raise my voice. People were always saying to me: " Can you please speak louder, we can't understand you!"

Doug Holder: It is common knowledge that well-established, famous poets patronized your store. But how about the BEATS, or poets outside the mainstream?
Louisa Solano: Elsa Dorfman, the well-known Cambridge photographer, was one of the employees of the Patterson Society, which basically brought people like Robert Creeleyand Allen Ginsberg to Cambridge. Dorfman was and is a friend of mine, so she provided a Beat scene. Ginsberg happened to be her best friend.

Jack Kerouac read at Harvard toward the end of his life. Irish poet Desmond O'Grady shoehorned me into a meeting with him. We went to see him read. The audience was packed with students, waiting for Kerouac to behave like Kerouac. He was inebriated. Afterwards Desmond took Kerouac, myself, and a number of students, to visit (it seemed)every single after hours bar in Cambridge. We eventually walked Kerouac back to the place he was staying. I remember, that same weekend, Sylvia Plath died. We were at Cronin's in Harvard Square and Desmond came in waving a newspaper and said: " She's dead, she's dead, we are now the only remaining poets." He grabbed Kerouac, and Kerouac backhanded Desmond, and said "Don't touch me!" Later, two young men came in and told Kerouac they had "gold", and he staggered down the street with them. That's the last we saw of him.

Doug Holder: What gave you the idea to change the Grolier from a regular to an all-poetry bookstore?
Louisa Solano: First of all it wasn't an all-poetry bookstore. It started out as a Fine Press bookstore. They had quite beautiful, limited, first edition books by Edna St. Vincent Millay, John Galsworthy, and others. When I went in there these books were covered with dust. A second printing of Edna St. Vincent Millay is not worth much to most people. Tastes change. He had a lot of poetry for that time, which made him a leading poetry bookseller on the East Coast. . Gordon changed it from a Fine Edition to a more literary bookstore.
When I took over all I inherited was a lot of bills, and unsellable books. I first tried to run it as a general bookstore. I realized if I were going to survive, I'd have to decide what this bookstore represents. After a month of sleepless nights, I decided to make it a poetry bookstore. I felt that was really needed. My decision to make it a poetry bookstore wasbecause of how undervalued poetry was. In this country the only way anything gets respected in this country is by money. Money defines anything that's worthwhile. If I could create a poetry bookstore that actually existed on commercial terms, people would say: "Look its got some worth". And it worked. It influenced the Academy of American Poet to start a National Poetry Month.

Doug Holder: Can you talk about some of the famous poets who visited the store over the years?
Louisa Solano: Robert Lowell visited the store twice. The first time I saw him I thought he was a bagman. Octavio Paz passed through here. I had a really wonderful conversation with him in the store. I couldn't believe I was talking psychology with OCATAVIO PAZ. I kept thinking I was going to freeze up, and will not be able to speak. When Seamus Heaney came to town, I noticed a couple with two kids in the Irish section. A little girl turned around and said, " My Daddy (Heaney) wrote this." I thought that was just wonderful. Jorie Graham comes through, as well as Peter Sacks. Donald Hall once said: "I want to be buried under the boards of this store." I said " Not on your life!"

Doug Holder: You started a prize competition and a reading series. Was this an innovation for a bookstore?
Louisa Solano: Gail Mazur started her reading series, and I followed shortly after. She and I actually started the poetry prize together. Yes, it was an innovation. Most stores did not do that. I also started autograph parties. That was a lot of fun.

Doug Holder: What do you view as the role of the Small Press in the poetry world and literary world in general?
Louisa Solano: I happen to love the small press. To me the small press is the supporter of poetry. The small press brings back the adventure. When I first came to the Grolier there were all these pamphlets in the store. I was the first store to carry Language Magazine In fact; I was the first seller to carry many of the small press literary magazines.

Doug Holder: Poetry can bring out the best and the worst in people. You have had a host of difficult and even irate customers in your store over the years. Can you tell me about your experiences?
Louisa Solano: A student came in the store and started to yell at his professor, who happened to be there. He claimed the professor had "stolen his mind." I calmed him down, and took him to the outpatient clinic of a local hospital. That was an interesting event. Another time a young man came into the store half-naked, swinging a tire iron.I had to take it away from him. One man who was totally obnoxious told me: "I have never been treated in such a manner before!' I said: "Wonderful, now you have a new experience!" I didn't want to disappoint the man, so I gave him a new experience.

Doug Holder: Can you name some of your favorite poetry journals?
Louisa Solano: Hanging Loose Tin House, to name a couple.

Doug Holder: Do you plan to write a book about your experiences?
Louisa Solano: Yes I do. People were suggesting I write a memoir of the store, but they were thinking of themselves as a central figure. I informed them the store would be the central figure. They didn't like that.
I have been around so long, and I know a lot of "stories" I feel I am going to need a good lawyer before I publish anything. The Houghton Library at Harvard will receive many of my papers.

Doug Holder: Are you a frustrated poet and or novelist?
Louisa Solano: I am a frustrated poet. About 7 years ago I was ready to shut the doors of the store, and do my own work. Then I figured what I was doing was more important than writing second-rate poetry. I very much want to write again when I leave the store.

Doug Holder is the founder of the Ibbetson Street Press and Arts/Editor for The Somerville News.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Lunch with poet Afaa Michael Weaver

November 19 2005
10 A.M. till 2 P.M.

Wilderness House Literary Retreat Presents: A Lunch with Afaa Michael Weaver.

A casual chat over lunch with renowned poet Afaa Michael Weaver. Lunch and hot coffee make an exceptional environment in which to talk about reading and writing and life.

Afaa Michael Weaver (born Michael S. Weaver) is the author of nine collections of poetry, several plays, and some short fiction. He has received NEA, Pew, and Pennsylvania Arts Council fellowships. In 2002 he taught at National Taiwan University as a Fulbright fellow. In playwriting Afaa has received the PDI Award from ETA Theater in Chicago. In April 2005 in Beijing he received a gold friendship medal from the Chinese Writers Association. He teaches at Simmons College where he is also director of the Zora Neale Hurston Literary Center and chairman of the Simmons International Chinese Poetry Conference.

Two of his latest collections of poetry are Multitudes (Sarabande 2000) and The Ten Lights of God. His first book of poetry, Water Song, was published in 1985 as part of the Callaloo series. Since Water Song, Weaver has published eight more collections of poetry, including Multitudes,
Sandy Point, and The Ten Lights of God, all of which appeared in 2000. His full length play Rosa was produced in 1993 at Venture Theater in Philadelphia under a small-Equity contract. His short fiction appears in Gloria Naylor?s Children of the Night and in Maria Gillan?s Identity Lessons.

Tess Onwueme, the Nigerian playwright, gave him the Ibo name ?Afaa,? meaning ?oracle,? while Dr. Perng Ching-hsi, of National Taiwan University has given him the Chinese name ?Wei Yafeng,? derived from ?Wei? for flourishing or blossoming, and ?Yafeng,? the title of a section of poems from the Book of Songs, the oldest anthology of Chinese poetry.

November 19 2005
10 A.M. till 2 P.M.
$25 per person, limited to 20 participants.


Thursday, September 01, 2005

Wilderness House Literary Retreat is pleased to present: Hallie Ephron

Hallie Ephron is a mystery novelist, Boston Globe crime fiction book reviewer, and author of the how-to guide about mystery writing that cracks the code. She is also a nominee for the Ellen Nehr Award for Excellence in Mystery Reviewing 2004.

After careers as a teacher, consultant, and marketing copywriter, Hallie tried her hand at writing fiction. She and Donald Davidoff, a neuropsychologist at McLean Hospital, created the fictional forensic neuropsychologist Dr. Peter Zak and investigator Annie Squires. Under the shared pseudonym G. H. Ephron, Hallie and Don have written five series mystery/suspense novels.

Hallie combines writing talent with a love of teaching in her new book, Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel: How to Knock ?Em Dead with Style (Writers Digest Books, 2005). She says, ?Mystery novels are genre fiction. Though there?s no one way to write one, there really are insights that can make the process a whole lot less painful the first time out.?

Hallie grew up in Los Angeles. She is the third of four writing Ephron sisters (Nora, Delia, and Amy) and her parents were screenwriters Henry and Phoebe Ephron who wrote classic movies like The Desk Set and Carousel. She credits genes with giving her the courage to finally get started writing fiction. Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel: How to Knock ?Em Dead with Style by Hallie Ephron

?The best how-to guide I have ever seen-I just wish I could have read it ten years ago.? - Lee Child, New York Times bestselling mystery author

?The Ephron sisters are to this generation what the Bronte sisters were to another.? ? Ramey D?Arcy

Saturday, June 04, 2005

C. Michael Curtis, Senior Editor of the Atlantic Monthly to host a Wilderness House Lunch

Littleton MA - Wilderness House Literary Retreat continues its tradition by presenting

?Lunch with C. Michael Curtis?

A casual chat over lunch with author and renowned editor C. Michael Curtis. Wilderness House is an exceptional location in which to talk about reading, writing and life over lunch. Bring your favorite stories to read or just come, listen and feast.

C. Michael Curtis edits virtually all Atlantic fiction, the Letters to the Editor, and other pieces. He also screens book-length first serial submissions and most unsolicited stories, which number some 12,000 manuscripts annually. Under his direction The Atlantic Monthly's fiction is nominated for a National Magazine Award virtually every year; in 1988 The Atlantic won this prestigious prize. Year after year short stories from the magazine are chosen for inclusion in the important annual prize collections. Curtis himself was the editor of American Stories: Fiction From The Atlantic Monthly, which was published in 1990. A second volume came out the following year, and 1992 saw the publication of Contemporary New England Stories. A companion volume, Contemporary West Coast Stories, was published in the fall of 1993. A fifth collection, entitled God: Stories, was published in December, 1998, by Houghton Mifflin, and a companion anthology, Faith: Stories, was published in 2003, also by Houghton Mifflin. His own essays, articles, reviews, and poems have been published in The Atlantic, The New Republic, National Review, and Sport, among other periodicals. Curtis is also renowned for his teaching: he has taught creative writing, ethics, grammar, and other subjects for more than thirty years at Harvard, MIT, Cornell, Tufts, Boston University, Bennington, and elsewhere.

Curtis earned a B.A. in English from Cornell in 1956. He came to The Atlantic in 1963 after four years of study toward a Ph.D. in government, also at Cornell. Previously he had worked as a reporter for The Ithaca Journal, and as an editorial assistant at Newsweek. While he was a graduate student, The Atlantic Monthly published three of his poems and employed him briefly as a summer reader.

Curtis lives in Littleton, Massachusetts, with his wife, Elizabeth Cox, a novelist and teacher of creative writing at Duke, Bennington, Michigan, MIT, Boston University, Tufts, and elsewhere.

June 26th from 11 A.M. till 2 P.M.
$25 per person, limited to 20 participants.

The event will take place in Wilderness House, 32 Foster Street, Littleton MA

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Lunch with Suzanne E. Berger, poet & autobiographer

Wilderness House Literary Retreat continues its tradition by presenting:

A Lunch with Suzanne E. Berger
(our first event ever at the newly rebuilt Wilderness House)

Suzanne E. Berger, poet, essayist, and teacher, is the author of These Rooms, a book of poems published by Penman Press, Legacies, a collection published by Alice James Books, and Horizontal Woman (Houghton Mifflin) a memoir of being disabled by back injury which received world wide notice. She has received awards from the MacDowell Colony, the Massachusetts Council on the Arts, the Somerville Arts Council, and the National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts. She teaches a poetry class at Lesley University. Her poems and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York times Magazine, Ploughshares, Agni, Prairie Schooner, Antaeus, and many other Journals.

She has been a Vista volunteer, a community organizer, a Headstart teacher, and a tutor for ESL students. She is the mother of one child, whom she raised lying down. Today she finds the world of being ?upright? after eight years of disability to always be an exciting adventure.

May 21st, 10 A.M - 2 Wilderness House , 32 Foster Street (at the end of Wilderness Road), Littleton MA
$25.00, includes a light lunch, Checks Welcome.
Accessable via commuter rail.

Wilderness House is a joint project of the New England Forestry Foundation and the Littleton Rotary Club.