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From the Paris of New England

At a time when many newspapers – if not going out of business altogether – have cut arts coverage, it’s reassuring to see that poet Douglas Holder works as the arts editor for The Somerville News, in Somerville, Massachusetts, a city on the outskirts of Boston and Cambridge. From the Paris of New England is a collection of Holder’s “Off the Shelf” column interviews and Somerville Community Access television show “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer” interviews with literary figures, many of whom live in this city. The literary luminaries in this volume include Martha Collins, Mark Doty, Timothy Gager, Miriam Levine, Dick Lourie, Afaa Michael Weaver, Marc Widershien, and twenty-two others.

At a time when many newspapers – if not going out of business altogether – have cut arts coverage, it’s reassuring to see that poet Douglas Holder works as the arts editor for The Somerville News, in Somerville, Massachusetts, a city on the outskirts of Boston and Cambridge. From the Paris of New England is a collection of Holder’s “Off the Shelf” column interviews and Somerville Community Access television show “Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer” interviews with literary figures, many of whom live in this city. The literary luminaries in this volume include Martha Collins, Mark Doty, Timothy Gager, Miriam Levine, Dick Lourie, Afaa Michael Weaver, Marc Widershien, and twenty-two others.

Readers will likely find something of interest among the varied genres and experiences represented here, especially because Holder knows how to ask the important questions. He often inquires about inspiration, pivotal life experiences, themes, accessibility, talent, and craft. For example, when plied about his writing habits, Marc Widershien answered, “I wrote between the lines of my existence,” and about advice to novice poets, “Think of everything you do as grist. Talent is vital, but study, experiment, self-discovery through art are indispensable.” Other writers were equally forthcoming on subjects important to them.

In his interview with Hugh Fox, Holder asked Fox how he is able, when reviewing works, to get “to the essence of a book with such few words.” As Fox stated, “Before I go to bed I always read a few things. Then I just react to it. It’s funny; it is like I listen to an inner voice. The inner voice tells me what to write.”

My inner voice told me that the interviews in From the Paris of New England may pique the interest of readers who know little or nothing about the writers included, while those who already have some knowledge of them might prefer the longer, in-depth interviews that literary journals often publish. Unfortunately, the inelegant book design and the typographical inconsistencies and errors also mar what is an otherwise interesting book.

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