Doug Holder, February Artist of the Month
Interview of Doug Holder as told to Gilmore Tamny; photography by Jaclyn Tyler
Could you tell us a bit more about yourself and your background? Did you always want to be a poet and/or drawn to poetry?
Well I was born in Manhattan in 1955. And my mother's side of the family was long-involved in the book business. They started selling books from pushcarts on the Lower East Side of NYC back in the early part of the last century. My late Uncle David Kirschenbaum was a prominent book dealer, and eventually founded the Carnegie Book Store in New York City's Book Row. So I was always around books--they were very much part the texture of my life. I started writing poetry in the 70s when I was living in a rooming house in the Back Bay of Boston. I recounted much of my life as a poet during this time in a lyrical memoir that was published Portrait of an Artist as a Young Poseur: 1974 to 1983 (Big Table Books). I think what jump started me was when I inadvertently found " On the Road" by Jack Kerouac on the shelves of the now defunct Barnes and Noble in Downtown Crossing in Boston. From there I read all the Beat poets and writers, and then went on to other genres--eventually I went on the graduate school to further my education.
What are some of your upcoming projects?
Well--when I am teaching (Endicott College and Bunker Hill Community College) I don't have time for many new projects. But I continue with my column, the-- LYRICAL SOMERVILLE in the Somerville Times, I produce and host my Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer show on Somerville Community Access TV show, direct the Newton Free Library Poetry Series, co-run the Bagel Bards, a literary group that meets in Davis Square every Saturday, and recently I was on the panel that picked the first two poet laureates of Somerville. Also-- for well over 30 years I have run poetry groups for psychiatric patients at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Ma. I work as a counselor there on weekends. I long had the idea for a Somerville Poet Laureate, and back in 2014 I met with Greg Jenkins of the Somerville Arts Council, and my old pal Harris Gardner and we made it happen. Our first laureate was Nicole Terez Dutton, the second (that we chose recently)-- is Gloria Mindock.
Ibbetson Press: how did that evolve?
It started in 1998 in Somerville on Ibbetson Street. We used an artistic rendition of the street sign that had both Ibbetson Street and Somerville Ave., written on it, as the front cover for our first issue. The magazine was founded by my wife Dianne Robitaille, Richard Wilhelm, and myself. At first we only reached out to Somerville poets but over the years we expanded. We started out funding ourselves, but now we are partially funded by Endicott College. Somerville has a rich history of small literary presses and I wanted to be part of it. Since 1998 we have put out forty issues of the lit mag Ibbetson Street, and close to a hundred chapbooks and books of poetry.
How do you see poetry as integral to Somerville or any community? The world? The universe?
Well hopefully poets can write about what people collectively feel but can't express in words. To have a voice out there--something that transcends all the muck and mire and smoke and mirrors of our troubled times is needed even more.
Who are some of your favorite poets? Massachusetts poets in particular?
Well my fav Somerville poets--- to name a few are: Gloria Mindock, Nicole Terez Dutton, Linda Conte, Kirk Etherton, Lucy Holstedt, Bert Stern, David Blair, Lloyd Schwartz, Dianne Robitaille, Richard Wilhelm, to name just a few... Massachusetts poets include: Sam Cornish, Richard Hoffman, Dennis Daly, Kevin Gallagher, Rusty Barnes, Kevin Carey, Afaa Michael Weaver, Robert K. Johnson, Dan Sklar, Michael Todd Steffen, Tomas O'Leary, Harris Gardner, Fred Marchant, Martha Collins Zvi Sesling, Lo Galluccio-- to many to name here...
How do you feel your work as a publisher and editor informs your writing of poetry? How about as teacher?
Well as the cliche goes--you always learn from your students. And as an editor and community journalist I have published, reviewed, and interviewed many poets. I have learned a great deal from reading their work, and talking to them about their creative process.
Of your own works, what is your most favorite?
Well--I think I am hip on my book Portrait of an Artist as a Young Poseur. In that collection, in a stream of consciousness style, I examined my sort of boheme life in the late 70s in Boston. I revisited all the old haunts, eccentric characters, etc... that I knew back in the day. Boston and Somerville have changed a great deal since then of course. I used to work in Davis Square in the early 80s and it was a down-at-the heels place then, and now it is very gentrified. Boston is also gentrified and a vastly different city. It was easier to live that lifestyle back then, now it is so damn expensive--there is a very different vibe now.
What is your writing process like? Your writing routine?
Well I do a lot of my writing in the backroom of the Bloc 11 Cafe in Union Square in the morning. It is a ritualistic thing for me. They know me there and what I get each morning-- a multigrain bagel with tomatoes and a small coffee. I read the New York Times and the Globe--then start writing. In that back room I have also interviewed quite a few folks--it is sort of my unofficial office.
How did your column in the Somerville Times come to be?
Well back in 2002-- I had been writing reviews, etc... online and I showed them to the owner at that time Bob Publicover. I asked him if I could write for the paper. It was called The Somerville News back then. Later the paper was bought by Donald Norton, and much later it morphed into The Somerville Times. From 2003 to 2010 we hosted the Somerville News Writers festival at the old Jimmy Tingle Theatre, the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square, the Arts Armory and elsewhere. I founded the festival with Timothy Gager and with the help of Donald Norton. We had a lot of folks pass through there like Nick Flynn, Franz Wright, Sue Miller, Hallie Ephron, Alex Beam, Steve Almond, Robert Pinsky, Robert Olen Butler and many more. Writing for the Times has been a blast! I have featured and written about many poets and writers in the good old Paris of New England--Somerville, Ma.