Patrick Keppel's Introduction

The following is the introduction given by Patrick Keppel, Chair of Liberal Arts at NEC, from last week's reading with Timothy Ogene.

I’d like to welcome everyone to an evening celebrating the work of NEC’s poet-in-residence, Ruth Lepson.  Ruth is a great colleague, a real joy to work with—an extremely warm, talented, and engaging teaching artist.  Her Poetry Workshop and Contemporary Poetry electives are always extremely popular, as her emphasis on the pure music of language resonates with the kind of students NEC attracts.  In their evaluations, students often comment on how her classes give them insight into their lives in general and as musicians in particular.

One student wrote that Ruth helped him see that “Poetry is music, art, composition, and everything alike.”

Another wrote, “There were so many engaging moments in this class…The idea and teachings of this class have expanded my outlook on art, life, and music.”  

And still another:  “This course taught me to look into the deeper meaning of things and in other situations to just enjoy the experience.  Ruth Lepson is awesome!”

At our annual Poetry Reading, as well as at our Hear Here! publication event, Ruth’s students present their compelling original poetry and impressive musical settings.  As you watch them interact with Ruth, it’s clear just how much they treasure her. They feel deeply connected to Ruth personally, as both a professional mentor and friend.  Some even have collaborated with her artistically, in poetry and jazz, in recordings and in concerts in Boston and New York.  In fact, we will see and hear some examples of these collaborations tonight.

Ruth’s passion for extending herself as a multidimensional artist has earned her the respect of many wonderful local, national, and international poets—many of whom she has invited to her electives as guest artists, including her mentor Robert Creeley, Llyod Schwartz, Fanny Howe, Gerrit Lansing, Laurie Duggan, Geoffrey O’Brien, Tina Darragh, P. Inman, and Kate Greenstreet—as well as major composers/musician collaborators such as Steve Lacy, Alan Fletcher, Bob Cogan, Joe Maneri, and Frank Carlberg, who created a song from one of Ruth’s poems, which we will also hear performed tonight.

Ruth has published several volumes of poetry including Dreaming in Color, Poetry from Sojourner, Morphology, I Went Looking for You, and of course, her most recent book of poems, ask anyone, which is receiving significant critical acclaim. There are copies of the book for purchase in the back, and if you haven’t yet got a copy, I strongly urge you to, as it’s quite remarkable.

As the poet and editor Joyce Peseroff wrote in a recent review, “The gift of Lepson’s poetry lies in the degree of attention she pays the world. Like the painter in the poem ‘the painter’s turning his head,’ Lepson believes that ‘in talk   in art   two things going on//two languages   one of love and one of noticing//each a pleasure   they happen together.’ Ask anyone offers its pleasures the way a musician builds a chord, each line a distinct note that resonates in fresh and harmonious ways.”

Our special guest tonight, the poet Timothy Ogene, recently wrote what I consider a particularly insightful review of the delicate complexities of the language and structure of Ruth’s poems.

“In Lepson’s work,” he writes, “thought reveals itself in the choice and structural placement of words and, in other instances, a reluctance to carry an emotion to an expected end. The goal, it seems, is to create a binary that balances overt emotions with critical deliberations.

“Most important, however, is the fierce grasp on the function and limits of language, where the poet does not merely play and experiment with language for its own sake but for an intended subliminal effect. That subliminal effect is accentuated by the not-quiteness of her poems, how they leave the reader sandwiched between a climax and a joyous longing for more, practically making us ‘want to think and dance at the same time’ as Betsy Sholl says of Lepson’s poems.”

So, in short, we have a great night of thinking and dancing ahead of us.  Ruth will be reading from a variety of her volumes, including a poem based upon Fielding Dawson’s portrait of the artist Cy Twombly which she read at the ICA Black Mountain College show this winter and which she’ll be reading for an upcoming Cy Twombly show at the MFA.  She’ll also be reading poems with accompaniment, which she will describe. And of course we’ll also hear poems from our special guest, Timothy Ogene, whom Ruth will introduce.

But first please welcome to the stage, our terrific poet-in-residence, Ruth Lepson.


Daniel Wuenschel

Thank you everyone who came to Sunday afternoon's reading at the CPL. We were truly honored to be in the presence of Celia Gilbert, Ruth Lepson, and Ethel Rackin as they shared their engaging and thought-provoking work with us.

If you missed the reading, you can still come and visit the work of these three excellent poets by borrowing their books or visiting the display of their materials on the second floor of Cambridge Public Library.


Photos from our reading at the Grolier.

Some photos from our reading at the Grolier to launch the new issue of spoKe journal.

Numéro Cinq

Coming in March. It's the Magic Box issue. With fantastic work by the Egyptian ceramics artists Michel Pastore and Evelyne Porret (Porret Pastore) and new art work from Anne Hirondelle. Also essays by Rikki Ducornet (on Gnosticism), Timothy Ogene (on Ruth Lepson), Yannis Livadas (on experimental aethetics), and Steven Moore (on the American avant-pop novelist J. P. McEvoy). And a brilliant interview with the Costa Rican-born Puerto Rican novelist Carlos Fonseca by Jessica Sequeira. New fiction from Kelly Cherry, Ben Slotsky, and Sean Preston. Poetry from Fleda Brown, Maura Stanton, and Sue Elmslie. Plus poetry in translation from the fantastic Spanish writer Agustín Fernández Mallo. Reviews by Jason DeYoung, Carolyn Ogburn, Mark Sampson, and Linda Chown. And for our Irish series this month, a gorgeous childhood memoir by Amanda Bell.

Upcoming events this week

I’ll be reading pages from Bill Berkson’s memoirs and from his emails to me, this Friday at the Grolier Poetry Book Shop, for the spoKe journal new issue reading, 7:00PM.
On Friday I will also be speaking about Robert Creeley to prospective students & their parents at The New England Conservatory of Music. The Day before I will be talking about George Oppen in one of my classes.

Good luck to me! A pleasure, really.

Grolier Poetry Book Shop: Staff Picks to Bring You Peacefully Into The New Year

You can purchase any of the following at:

Small Ceremonies
by Cynthia Snow / $17.00

"The "Small Ceremonies" of Cindy Snow's marvelously unafraid poems are the liturgies of Eros and Thanatos,  of sex and love and birth and aging and death. The book itself works a kind of sympathetic magic, telling stories of everyday encounters in ways that reveal their essential strangeness, and casting the powerful light of imperfect, sensual, living bodies upon the hidden life of the spirit.  
-Patrick Donnelly                                                   

Hanging Loose 107
by Donna Dennis / $11.00

Features an art portfolio by Donna Dennis and exciting new work from Rosalind Brackenbury, Liuyu Chen, Harley Elliott, Gerald Fleming, Joanna Fuhrman, Gardner McFall, Maureen Owen, Ron Padgett, Tim Robbins, Mark Terrill, and many more, including our regular section of wonderful high school writing.

ask anyone
by Ruth Lepson / $12.50

"ask anyone is the record, think disk, of Ruth Lepson's encounters with some of the musicians she has taught at Boston's New England Conservatory of Music.  For twenty years, she has worked in a world where words meet music and the results lead, often as not, to performance. At the Conservatory she befriended her colleague, the great soprano saxophonist and lover of poetry, Steve Lacy, who long collaborated with her poet-hero Robert Creeley. Creeley is ask anyone's guiding spirit, but the book's looseness, stretching out and swing is all Lepson. In ask anyone Lepson honors her lineage by bringing it into the here and now. Lend an ear."
-Pressed Wafer

"I have this theory (burp) that every poet, including me, wants to write like the proverbial "ancient Chinese" one on a mountain top; to write clearly, whether passionate or wise or both (can one be both?), to simply tell. Well, you're a model of that. Only Joe Ceravolo of my generation came anywhere near.
 - Bill Berkson

by Michael Palmer / 15.95

"Thread presents eighty-six new poems by "the foremost experimental poet of his generation, and perhaps of the last several generations" (The Poetry Society of America's 2006 Wallace Stevens Award citation).
 "Michael Palmer's new collection is structured in two parts, "What I Did Not Say" and "Thread", subtitled "Stanzas in Counter light." It begins with a beautiful suite of poems featuring The Master of Shadows (first glimpsed in his 2006 collection The Company of Moths). The counter light of the title section shines in shafts of Palmer's ever-surprising ironic wit, which is given to sidelong parallel leaps. Several poems in Thread directly address our endless wars, yet even in sorrow and rage the poems still glow with wonder. In multi phonic passages, voices speak from a decentered place, yet are grounded in the central rootedness of the whole history of poetry and culture that has gone before. In his new poems, signature palimpsests create complex cycles of thought, "returning and returning" via echoes to what he has called "the layering process, the process of accretion and the process of emergence."
- New Directions website

It Takes One To Know One
by Michael Lally / 18.95

"Michael Lally, winner of a 1999 American Book Award for his sensational debut Black Sparrow volume, It's Not Nostalgia, evinces the same stunning honesty and self-analytical clarity in this powerful new collection of autobiographical poetry and prose. Retracing his wandering life-path from a rough Irish-Catholic boyhood in a working-class suburb of Newark, N.J., through turbulent years of radical political engagement in Washington, D.C., struggling-poet bohemianism in New York and elusive brushes with movie-star fame in Hollywood, Lally finally circles back to his home turf of South Orange, an older and wiser man."

"If in the chapter, "Lally's Alley," the author's large family "owned" the eponymous block on which they lived, so too does Lally own this work. The book's melange of vignettes, poems, tracts, and reminiscences is daring to say the least; still, sprawling like the Lally clan, these variegated ruminations manage quite nicely to cohere."

"Lally is a fierce writer and intellect. His Irish-American heritage is a recurring theme, but it provides a jumping-off point for exploring the American Way and the different American zeitgeists the author has witnessed, rather than acting as a limiting agent. Though his "Newark Poem" explains that the speaker has waited all his life in Jersey for the great cities of the world to come to him, It Takes One to Know One rises above New Jersey and indeed even America as Lally plumbs the soul of his people, his country and himself."
- David R. Godine, Publisher



Supplement v.1 launches this evening (6PM) at Kelly Writers House, with new work from: Rachel Blau DuPlessis, CA Conrad, Jason Mitchell, Rae Armantrout, Joseph Massey, Paolo Javier, Alex Tarampi, Anne Tardos, Davy Knittle, Mark Johnson, Zhimin Li, Yolanda Wisher, Laynie Browne, Juliana Spahr, Nicole Peyrafitte, Zohar Atkins, Mel Bentley (Speak Wright), William J Harris, Kyoo Lee (Q), Erica Kaufman, Christopher Soto (Loma), Jen Scappettone, Susan Bee, Rachel Levitsky, Julia Bloch, Tsitsi Ella Jaji, Charles Bernstein, Rachel Zolf, Michael Davidson, Patricia Spears Jones, Bob Perelman, Tracie Morris, Thomas Devaney, Katie Price, Stephen Ross, Francie Shaw, Ryan Eckes, Rob Fitterman, Chris McCreary, Anna Maria Hong, Pierre Joris, Amy Catanzano, Kevin Killian, Cindy Arrieu-King, Quraysh Ali Lansana, Jim Krull, Michael Leong, Ruth Lepson, Jake Marmer, Joe Milutis, Rivka Weinstock, Nick Montfort, Jena Osman, Jerome Rothenberg, Kristen Gallagher, Frank Sherlock, Gabriel Ojeda-Sague, Ron Silliman, Rodrigo Toscano, Kaitlin Moore, Travis Macdonald, Jason Zuzga, John Yau, Anna Yin, Rob Halpern. Eds. Orchid Tierney, Julia Warner, Ariel Resnikoff.

Patrick Pritchett - Best of 2016

It's that time of year again -- time for the dreaded "Best Of" list. You can read my full screed on my blog. For those of you who just want to cut to the chase I've appended the list by itself below.

The Ratio of Reason to Magic | Norman Finkelstein | Dos Madres Press
Archeophonics | Peter Gizzi | Wesleyan UP
Of Beings Alone (complete) | Lissa Wolsak | Tinfish
Day for Night | Richard Deming | Shearsman
Falling Awake | Alice Oswald | Norton
Poesis | Rachel Blau DuPlessis | Textile Series
Lay Ghost | Nathaniel Mackey | Black Ocean
The Laughter of the Sphinx | Michael Palmer | New Directions
Poems Hidden in Plain Sight | Hank Lazer | PURH (France)
Exile’s Recital | Andrew Mossin | Spuyten Duyvil
The Sampo | Peter O’Leary | The Culture Society
Ask Anyone | Ruth Lepson | Pressed Wafer
Memory Cards: Thomas Traherne Series | Susan M. Schultz | Talisman House
I Rode with the Cossacks | Bill Corbett | Granary Books
Fugue Meadow | Keith Jones | Richochet
Self-Portrait as Joseph Cornell | Ken Taylor | Pressed Wafer
Dianoia | Michael Heller | Nightboat Books
Sowing the Wind | Ed Foster | Marsh Hawk Press
House of Lords and Commons | Ishion Hutchinson | FSG
Gap Gardening | Rosmarie Waldrop | New Directions
You Ask Me To Talk About the Interior | Carolina Ebeid | Noemi
Ravenna Diagram | Henry Gould | Lulu Press
Song of the Systole | Matthew Gagnon (ms.)

Snow and Dry Stones

From: Paul Nelson
Date: Wed, 14 Dec 2016
To: Ruth Lepson
Subject: Snow and Dry Stones

Dear Ruth,

What a well-written, lucid and important account of Charles Olson you give in Letters for Olson! I saw your name and the names of other friends in the table of contents and flipped around in the book. Some essays are incomprehensible, or at least they were for me. Maybe I could read again, but some do not seem worth the effort.

Yorio Hirano! Yes, and your essay. That you give testimony from Diane di Prima is wonderful. This has been an issue with me and a younger poet who says "of course Olson was misogynist." This is related to one issue that prompted many Trump voters. When you go to ELEVEN on the racist meter for Romney, how can anyone take you seriously when you try for TWELVE on that meter for Trump? Or, to a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

YES to the poetry of our time that will survive! Yes to multiculturalism! Death to Yepez! (OK, not death, but maybe a bad limp or something.)

Anyway, thank you and Seasons Blessings.


It's Peaceful in Cambridge: The Poetry of Susannah Robbins

Susannah Robbins died on Tuesday the 27th of December. She died peacefully in hospice in Cambridge.

"Amelie's Statement"

one's feelings change.
there could be no definitive
sentence of size,
such statement otherwise....

and so one needs
recursive entries into time
to show one lives.
and that's why one still reads
after life gives
all that one knows is all, and grieves
its own changing
in new growth challenging
perfection, then, in
sight of time, in another's rhyme,
one newly leaves
grief where the grief has been

Can you hear the influence of Yeats, Donne, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Creeley in this complex series of sounds that are the meaning of this beautiful poem that is also very much her own?

It must have been the late 70's or early 80's when Susannah Robbins & I found ourselves in a poetry group together, which often met at Pat Rabby's house in Lexington, sometimes on her screened-in porch. I would pick Susannah up at her place on Shepherd St. and we would talk up a storm. There was something moving about her confidence, her lack of pretention, and her modesty.

She has a subtle sense of sound, she cares nothing for what is fashionable--what is everlasting is her concern, and her poetry is essentially lyrical. At times it's formal, even a sonnet once in a while. For over a decade she wrote mainly in syllabics. She cries and laughs at some remove in her poetry, disciplined and skilled as she is. You can hear a bit of Matthew Arnold's melancholy coming through.

From "Amelie's Composure":

Sitting under the shadow
of trees that are not trees,
a light that is not a light,
love (it is barely love) .....

Always there are stacks of paintings, watercolors, etchings, prints, and drawings in her apartments. Last year she had a show at Neville Place, the assisted living facility on Fresh Pond where she has lived in recent years. She's appreciative of every little stimulus or treat. One day when I went to see her she was in the main room for an art lecture that though well done was nothing new to her yet she was listening with interest, and beaming as she ate the piece of requested key lime pie.

From an earlier time, some of "Amelie Lives":

The tide
I see has no
starting place, running
up as it does freely as
children's hands and again back in confusion,
little disarray, laughing with
themselves half-seen.
The surge of the full
tide against its limit carries
the weight and the rush
as though it were some self-
floating sea
creature, in one with
itself, where all motion is one....

....Unconscious the sea
returns again; somewhere the sand
notes all of this, and sighs in its half-openness
like a child sleeping, half-hearing the rain.

Hear Stephens in "some self-floating sea"? (Why the name Amelie, I asked. It's a combination of the Dutch lieder singer, Elly Ameling's, name, and her friend Amy's, BTW. She is loyal to & incorporates those she has loved.)

Her personification is convincing; it isn't the easy, superficial kind. Nothing in her is superficial.

time, dark as
some lord drunk
with power leaning
from a tower
predicting doom,

my mind nears
peace, here in
this dusk where
all wind leans
as in trust

(from "Amelie Forgets")

Her father, Herbert Robbins, was one of the great mathematicians of the 20th c and she inherited some of his acumen and ability to think logically. And political engagement. She edited two anthologies of political writing, Against the Vietnam War: Writings by Activists and Peace Not Terror: Leaders of the Antiwar Movement Speak Out, which include essays by such notable activists as Noam Chomsky and Staughton Lynd, with whom she is still in touch. Jane Bond Moore's essay in the Vietnam anthology discusses the roles of an African-American woman in the movement. These collections are varied and valuable historical documents.

"At my Harvard twenty-fifth reunion in 1992," Susannah writes in the introduction to the Vietnam one, "There was a symposium entitled 'Vietnam: The Choices We Made.' It was like a memorial service....
"In Harvard Square it seemed that the sidewalk was glass, that below it lay the rubble of the Vietnam War on which American society was built, and that no one was looking down.
"So, I would look down...."

She edited for a living, for example, books on impressionism and cultural illiteracy, novels, and political work. Yet she remains little known and underappreciated.

What does it mean to live Cambridge unrecognized? For her, this was always the place, after Radcliffe, then a PhD at Boston College, (with a thesis on Yeats, "The Perspective of Style"), then a brief stint teaching literature at Vassar. She tells me she feels free here. And that she loved her Harvard professors, for instance, David Riesman, the sociologist and author of The Lonely Crowd, and Hilary Putnam, the mathematician and philosopher. What she loved about her Boston College English professor and thesis advisor, Andy Von Hendy, is that 'he didn't talk. He let us talk.'

Why did she return here rather than go back to New York? Because it's peaceful, she says. Because it had become her real home. She loved living on Shepherd St., then on Oxford St., between Harvard and Porter Squares, loved the little grocery stores--she is sorry to see Evergood Market go--and the proximity to The Harvard Art Museums, where her work is collected, as it is at Vassar and Smith and in private collections and now in the estates of Meyer Schapiro and physicist Victor Weisskopf. Some years ago she had a show at the Cambridge cable station in Central Sq.--the funkiness of the venue seemed right for her.

Recently, when the few of us who visit her had a birthday party for her in her room she couldn't talk very much and lay in bed, sometimes dozing or just listening with her eyes closed, making a remark once in a while; what I keep with me is her loving smile.

There are those who live in Cambridge in relative anonymity, though with talent and accomplishment, and it has been better for them to live here than most other places, since they need to be surrounded by others who are talented and accomplished, if more traditionally successful than they are. Cambridge can accommodate them. If only it could do more for them.

Here is her painting of the building on Shepherd Street where she lived for decades in two rooms.

When I asked if she could say more about Cambridge, she said with typical concision, "It's beautiful." Then she remembered that "some old lady said that the garden in Radcliffe Yard is the closest thing in Cambridge to Heaven." I asked if she agreed. Yes, she answered, and she cried for a moment, maybe remembering better days.

From "Amelie is Honest" (written at Vassar):

In the morning the curtain
is quite quiet. There
sunlight lies, off-white,
warm, lying in loose short folds.

Susannah still sounds like a New York intellectual and retains some of the hands-on way she got at Putney, the school in Vermont where the students farmed as well as got their book learnin'. She grew up around Einstein (in 1952, when her father was at The Institute for Advanced Study), and Aldous Huxley and Alan Lomax in Manhattan, who visited them on 80th and Madison. I asked if her mother, an artist, was as brilliant as her father and she said certainly. Her father was at times social and her mother always, and she looks like each of them.

She has six books of poetry to her name, and, despite little critical attention, has gone on working because that's what she does. "Eclipse of the Moon" is the title poem of her book published by Elderberry Press in 2012. Other books of poems include her etchings and color prints.

Of her Earth, Air, Fire, and Water: A Memoir of the Sixties and Beyond, Howard Zinn wrote, "I am enormously impressed with the quality of the writing and the extraordinary portraits she has drawn of the people who crossed her life's path." She herself is extraordinary, another of Cambridge's unseen, unsung brilliant, and lives with that which means most to her. She just quoted this to me, from the song by Michael Balfe:

I dreamed I dwelt in marble halls
With vassals and serfs at my side....

But I also dreamt which pleased me most
That you loved me still the same.

From "Amelie Speaks with Love":

The gravity of certain
rainfalls is a feeling I
learned early on in spring, the May
love bloomed powerful as a
cherry's dark rind of
bark falling under showers speaking
the final transient language: we.