Monday, July 23, 2018

Jul 23, 2018

There’s an editorial in The Recorder calling for a change in the Greenfield laws to ban people sleeping in the rough on the town Common.
Perhaps the current editorial writer has forgotten the purpose of the New England town common, or has subscribed to the notion that a town’s branding is more important than the commonwealth of the people who live there.
It’s a punitive, fearful, discriminatory cry from a local company that has itself long felt at liberty to pay its employees so little they routinely qualify for public assistance and cannot afford the rising local rents.
Perhaps some actual cross-sector collaboration and energy pulled together on practical housing policy to imagine and create truly affordable apartments in the walkable and bikable downtown, would be a better idea.
This is Franklin County after all, a place known for the highest percentage of income of charitable giving in the state even as its residents live pretty close to the bone. This is a place where people create food co-ops and arts organizations and farm shares and a Garlic Festival, Conway throws a dessert potluck to study-up before its town meeting, Greenfield built a stellar music and balloon festival — all this happens because people are sometimes simply fearless enough to dream up good ideas and show up to help.
We make some wicked good beer, too.
A good editorial should offer vision and leadership. This is a shameful piece.
We can fix the housing crisis locally, by using our imaginations, our good will and taking care of each other. I bet there will even be a few fun potlucks along the way.

-Samantha Wood

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Hauling Toward Home

An audio installation

I have come to a place in my life 
where I no longer know what "home" means.
Is it the place where I live?
Or is it the people I love?

Hauling Toward Home explores rowing across dark water to reach a familiar harbor. 
This project includes members of my family, separated by distances spanning the circumference of the planet, and friends from eras of my life so distinct from each other it is as though they occurred in separate dimensions.
But they are not separate. 

This installation launched at Eggtooth Productions
Full Disclosure Festival: Radical Interconnectedness
Turners Falls, Massachusetts
April 14, 2018

Listen in two parts.

Hauling Toward Home 1

Hauling Toward Home 2

Samantha Wood is an artist living in Western Massachusetts. She earned an MFA in Poetry from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Hauling Toward Home is her third installation in Eggtooth Productions' Full Disclosure festivals. Previous works include The Uncertainty Cube and “Touching Myself,” a short play with Ayshia Stephenson.
Samantha Wood is a member of the art and performance group Exploded View. She works as the managing editor for news at The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Mass.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Exploded View

Exploded View

A multimedia exhibit and word performance by eight Pioneer Valley women:

Lea Banks, Trish Crapo, Edite Cunha, Candace Curran, Elizabeth MacDuffie, 
Diana Pedrosa, Nina Rossi and Samantha Wood 

Dynamic. Physical. Linking and exploding boundaries between word and vision, personal and public, with static and moving parts.

Each artist was tasked with finding a way to work with this idea of the exploded view, that shows parts relative to a whole, breaks something apart or explains a way of seeing the relationships between parts, whole or broken. Each has created a piece of visual art and a poetic text. Some of the art is sculpture, installation, three dimensional, some is collage and drawing, some digital.

Works in progress -- the group will have its first show during the Greenfield Annual Word Festival in October 2016 in Greenfield, Massachusetts. Here is a taste of some of the work by these artists. Some of these are previous works and some in progress for the Exploded View show.

Trish Crapo. Why Does the Knife.

Edite Cunha. There was Something I was Supposed to Tell.

Trish Crapo

Edite Cunha. Fervor from the Truth

Elizabeth MacDuffie. Hey, baby (prototype).

Diana Pedrosa. Date Night
Nina Rossi. Head.

Nina Rossi
Diana Pedrosa

Samantha Wood. Uncertainty Cube.

More work and other projects by these artists can be seen at:
Lea Banks:
Elizabeth MacDuffie: Meat for Tea: The Valley Review
Diana Pedrosa:
Nina Rossi: Nina's Nook

Exploded View was conceived by Candace Curran, who showed up in my studio one day hauling a stack of old auto repair guides, saying "I've fallen in love with parts manuals, what do you think of this?"
Poet and librarian by trade, Curran has a history of bringing people together to make something new.
She produced Interface, a collaboration of word and image, which included a dozen events between 1993 and 2010 in the Haley's Publishing barn, the 1794 Meetinghouse, New Salem, Orange Innovation Center, Montague Book Mill .... These events were a marriage between poet and artist. Artists included were Les Campbell, Norah Dooley, Linda Ruel Flynne, J.R. Greene, Dorothy Johnson, Susan Pepper Aisenberg, Donna Estabrooks, Janet Macfadyen, Richard Baldwin, Jean Stabell, Candace Anderson, Alice Schertle, Barbara Ellis, Hugh Bloomingfield, Amy Fagan, Julia Penelope, Renata Sylvia Pienkawa, Cathy Stanton.

Artist bios:
Lea Banks is the author of All of Me (Booksmyth Press, 2008) and forthcoming collection The Bottomland. She lives in Western Massachusetts, is the Poetry Coordinator for the Brattleboro Literary Festival in Vermont, and founder of the Collected Poets Series in Shelburne Falls, Mass. Banks has published in several journals including American Poetry Journal,  Connotation Press, Big River Poetry Review, Poetry Northwest, Slipstream, Diner Sweet,San Pedro River Review, Town Creek Poetry, The Laurel Review. She has recent work in Meat for Tea, and off the margins where she was the guest poet. She has work forthcoming in Queens of Cups.

Trish Crapo is a poet, writer, photographer and multimedia artist working in western Massachusetts. Her photography and art have been exhibited throughout New England, at the New School in New York City and in Moscow and Tula, Russia. Her book Dune Shack is a collection of images and words, made among the dunes on Cape Cod from a residency in 2013. Her chapbook Walk Through Paradise Backwards was published by Slate Roof Press in 2004. Her poetry has been published widely, including in Southern Poetry Review, Bark and Meat for Tea. She covers poetry and the arts for The Recorder.

Edite Cunhā is a writer, artist, teacher and activist. Her fiction has been published both locally and nationally and won awards and fellowships including Smith’s Spencer Prize for Excellence in Writing, AWP’s Intro Writing Award and the Tara Fellowship for short fiction. She has been a fellow at the Vermont Studio Center, A Room of Her Own and the Disquiet Literary Program. She believes that creativity can transform the individual as well as society, and leads creative writing and multi-media art workshops for people of all ages. Cunhā has a BA from Smith College and an MFA from Warren Wilson College. She lives in Turners Falls, Mass.

Elizabeth MacDuffie, along with Alexandra Wagman, founded Meat for Tea: The Valley Review over a decade ago. She is a proud and enthusiastic member of the Exploded View group. She lives in a house with a blue kitchen, in which she enjoys creating epicurean delights.

Diana Pedrosa is a multi media artist who goes by the alias ixchelailee or ixchel. She combines past photography education and passion for image transfer with her tactile inclinations towards fibers and patterns. Her materials include pattern paper, electrical, scotch, & gaffer's tape, found and appropriated images, photographs & photocopies, glue and paint and most recently digital photo editing programs. She lives in Turners Falls, Massachusetts.

Nina Rossi is an artist and writer in Turners Falls, Massachusetts, who is known for her odes to abandoned shopping carts and her sculptures of garden slugs, among other diverse creations, and her ridiculously narrow Nook gallery.

Samantha Wood is a writer, artist and editor living in western Massachusetts.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A review: White Blight by Athena Farrokhzad, translated by Jennifer Hayashida

A review: White Blight

by Athena Farrokhzad
translated by Jennifer Hayashida
published by Argos Books

Athena Farrokhzad's White Blight startled me from the moment it slipped out of the envelope and onto my kitchen table. It is silver.
It looks like a gorgeous piece of metal.
It reflects everything.

The design is smart and stinging.
The whole damn thing is redacted.
Every line is white type etched in black.

I sat down to take a first look at it. I just wanted to leaf through it, but I read the book to the end.
It scared the hell out of me. It is very good.
I didn’t look inside the book again for weeks.

Exile. Racism. No home; the here-home.
Holding the separate parts of yourself in your teeth, wondering what you can spit out or keep. The killing of the parents to make oneself whole. Love of family and their inescapable press.
Farrokhzad’s lines ring these truths in a new way.

“My mother said: Do not bury me here
Bury me where the veneer of civilization has peeled
Spit out my language, return the milk to me”

How much must the poet risk?
Farrokhzad shows us: The mother takes her fucking milk back.

White Blight fulfills beautifully the open promise, what I think of as the existential lie of poetry: that you can tell all the truth. This is how a hopeless person reads a poem and believes it. I believe everything here and I love it.

White Blight followed me around my apartment. It was in the living room; it was in the kitchen. Then it was on the bookcase beside my bed. Gleaming in the light. Daring me again to read it again. The lines were singing in my head.

“My father said: There were those who were executed at dawn before sleep cleared
My mother said: There were those who had to pay for the bullets
to bury their daughters”

“My uncle said: Is there a puddle where war has not washed its bloody hands”

“My brother said: Some day I want to die in a country
where people can pronounce my name”

“My father said: We are still there, even if time has separated us from the place”

The white type peers out of the black background and I am careful, almost like I have to find the words or pull them out – I work a little harder to see and it brings me in, like reading invisible ink.

What is the tool she uses to etch these lines in the dark? It cuts close.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The kid is applying to college

My kid is working on her college applications. This is what I hear:
What do you think of this?
Don’t sit too far away. Sit right here.
Give me space. Just let me write.
Read this right now - I need feedback.
I’m hungry.
Not now; I can feed myself.
Read this right now. What do you think of this?
Be quiet, I am trying to work.
Where are you going? Sit right here.

I open a little piece of chocolate wrapped in foil and even it offers a platitude for my improvement.
Are we supposed to be gathering points for pretending to continuously improve ourselves?
I only want the chocolate, no redemption.
When I was a waitress for a time, I had a rule: always be visibly bleeding.
A split lip, a bitten finger. Something to get me fired. It never worked.

When I worked with race horses, I was always bleeding. Pinched skin, busted toes, horses rearing up and pulling me with them, frozen bucket handles leaving my fingers raw. 
I loved those damn horses.

Seventeen years I’ve been wrangling and feeding this beast, bleeding.
Be quiet, I am trying to work.
Sit right here.
I’m hungry; not now.
Give me space; just let me write.
Sit right here.

Where are you going?

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

For your consideration: a panel of editors

Here is an article on getting published in literary journals and what editors are looking for. I wrote this after attending a Straw Dog Writers Guild panel discussion with four editors of journals, all with international audiences and contributors, that are all published in western Massachusetts.
It was first published in The Recorder.

If you are a writer who aims to get published, then it is likely you know what it feels like to work up the courage to send out a piece of fiction, an essay or poem to a journal in the hopes that it will be selected. And it is likely you have asked yourself: what are the editors looking for?
The Straw Dog Writers Guild recently put on an event at the Lilly Library in Florence that gets to the heart of this question. On a Saturday morning this fall, the guild gathered editors from four well-known journals published in western Massachusetts. The editors shared their insights and anecdotes on what they are looking for and what it is like to put out a journal.
The editors were Diana Babineau, managing editor of The Common; Emily Wojcik, managing editor of The Massachusetts Review; Elizabeth MacDuffie, editor of Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, and Lori Desrosiers, managing editor and publisher of Naugatuck River Review.
The room was packed to capacity.
The most important piece of advice, repeated by each editor with emphasis, is to read the journals you are thinking of sending your work. Become familiar with what they choose to publish, the style, tone, subject matter.
“Reading an issue is crucial,” said Wojcik. She said The Massachusetts Review, which has been publishing since 1959, is committed to publishing emerging writers next to established writers. She said the journal is looking for pieces of writing that have “real interest in the world beyond the self.”
MacDuffie said Meat for Tea is about to turn 10 and that it was founded with something of a punk-rock sensibility, while setting the bar high for quality. The journal, published quarterly, is not academically affiliated. “Art that offends no one … that’s not worth a damn,” said MacDuffie. She said the journal likes to feature artists and writers in the Pioneer Valley, but publishes work from around the world, from emerging and well-known artists.
Babineau described The Common as a print and online literary magazine, publishing high quality literature examining ideas of place. It was founded in 2010 and makes its home at Amherst College. The magazine also considers “global histories and works in translation.” The Common publishes in print twice a year, in the fall and spring, and publishes new work online four times per week.
Desrosiers started Naugatuck River Review “on a whim” and said it is a journal of “compressed narrative, strong emotion ... and great quality” poetry. The journal is published twice a year. She is also an editor for Word Peace, an online literary journal devoted to social justice. According to its website,, Word Peace is looking for “... work that asks for positive change and is forward thinking. We publish writing that takes a stand against corruption and greed, brutality, genocide, and oligarchy.”
Reading the journals themselves is the best way to get a sense of the sort of writing editors are choosing to publish. Along with this basic idea of acquainting yourself with the journal, Desrosiers adds, “For goodness sake, read the (submission) guidelines on any journal.” These vary. Some publications accept submissions electronically only, while a few still accept hard copies in the mail. But don’t get this wrong because it will likely mean that your submission will never get read.
On the topic of what they are looking for, MacDuffie, whose journal accepts work in many genres, including visual art and recipes, almost begs the audience “ send me more essays … give me a well-crafted essay, please.”
Wojcik of the Mass Review seconds that, “we have a dearth of nonfiction; we’re always looking for nonfiction ...”
Desrosiers, nodding, adds, “Word Peace is looking for nonfiction, especially essays.”
When asked how important the cover letter is, the editors agreed that it isn’t all that important. Don’t send in your resume, they add, but do mention if the journal has published your work previously.
On the topic of feedback, there is a range of interaction between writers and editors, depending on the journal. According to Babineau, The Common editors will sometimes work with a writer when they think a piece is nearly ready for publication, but could be improved, while Meat for Tea does not alter work. MacDuffie said she either accepts the work or rejects it.
Another way to get to know the work published in local journals is to attend public events they host. Each of these journals hosts readings to celebrate their publications. The Common also records podcasts available on its website. The Naugatuck River Review hosts a contest every year and holds public readings. Meat for Tea hosts quarterly cirques to mark the launch of each issue. These are multi-artform evenings including short films, a gallery of visual art, spoken word and music at Sonelab in Easthampton. The Massachusetts Review publishes a blog and videos and is accepting submission of longer form fiction and nonfiction for its Working Titles ebook project.
All of the journals have Facebook pages.
To learn more about Straw Dog Writers Guild, go to:

Sunday, November 23, 2014

We Have Sacrificed Our Liberty to the Surveillance State

(This post appeared in The Recorder and the Huffington Post on Nov. 20, 2014)

What are we so afraid of?

It's easy to sound crazy when you start to talk about the United States' sweeping surveillance program. It could be a conspiracy theorist's fantasy. But in 2013 former NSA analyst Edward Snowden brought this system and its abuses to the attention of journalists, and now we all know it's real.

"I discovered that there were programs of mass surveillance that were happening beyond any possible statutory authority. ... These were things that never should have happened," Snowden tells Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig in an interview from Oct. 20.

And while we are engaged in this sweeping surveillance program, the press is suffering an unusual degree of suppression. With more whistleblowers prosecuted under the 1917 Espionage Act during the Obama administration than under all previous administrations combined, journalists face charges for not revealing sources. When Snowden went to the press he engaged a constitutionally protected check on his own judgment by asking journalists to look at the information and to use it wisely.

So maybe now what seems crazy is so few people are talking about it.

Why? Maybe some liberals are reluctant to criticize the Obama administration for fear of sounding like right-wing racists. But where are conservatives on First and Fourth Amendment freedoms and overreach of government? Conserving the Constitution is perhaps the most patriotic act, but they seem reluctant to defend these basic rights. Or maybe it's because the surveillance apparatus is so complex, it's hard to know how to respond. Some seem resigned to it. Some say, "What harm does it do to be watched, if I'm not doing anything wrong?"

If the police walked uninvited through your door to go through your papers, read your mail, take notes on everything you own, listen to your kids' phone calls, you would make a fuss, I wager, even if you weren't doing anything wrong. Now, it seems, asserting privacy as a right is akin to an admission of guilt. It hasn't always been so.

Snowden says to Lessig:

"... This is one of the reasons we have the prohibition against unreasonable seizure. We don't say: the police can go and search through all of our houses, take everything that they want, but then simply not use it. Or just make a note of everything that's in our house but not take it because it's that - that reduction in our liberty, that reduction in our freedom, that reduction in our power relative to our state that is the real concern."

We must re-assert our right to privacy.

It's not OK for our government to monitor us, collect our personal email and texts, to track us. It infuses us with an insidious fear of reprisal, inhibits critique, stifles creative work and causes us to restrict ourselves at the edges of what we dare think and say to one another. Why are we now ceding this hard-won freedom to an unchecked security force? This reduction of our power relative to the state is a signal that our democracy is in peril.

We have permitted these broad constitutional violations under the guise of keeping us safe. But have terror attacks been prevented by this surveillance? In fact, it has been said that the sheer quantity of information swept up hampers true, specific investigation of very real threats.

It is "... a system whose reach is unlimited, but whose safeguards are not," Laura Poitras quotes Snowden in her documentary Citizenfour.

The balance has shifted and the few in control have much to lose. The government now has an irresistible power. There are billions of dollars to be made in security contracts, campaign donations from security firms and rotating lobbying jobs. But this is also true: We have an obligation to govern our government.

"Snowden did what he did because he recognized the NSA's surveillance programs for what they are: dangerous, unconstitutional activity. This wholesale invasion of Americans' and foreign citizens' privacy does not contribute to our security; it puts in danger the very liberties we're trying to protect," Daniel Ellsberg wrote in the Guardian in June of 2013.

"The question of whistle-blowing -- when to stand up -- is really one of 'Do these checks and balances still function?' It's about allowing the public a chance to participate in democratic processes in order to play their part in determining the outcome," Snowden tells Lessig.

Constant surveillance without accountability is a thunderous breach of our Constitution and the natural rights it seeks to protect. Freedoms of privacy, speech, of the press and association must be articulated and exercised. It is impossible for a free-thinking, democratic society to function without them.

"I took an oath at the Central Intelligence Agency," Snowden says to Lessig, "that oath was to, to protect the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. And that's important to remember, because that's critical to the quality of our governance, if you only look outward we have this sort of inevitable slide, this inevitable slow corrosion where generation after generation we lose a little bit of our freedom, a little bit of our liberty that we inherited."

Citizenship confers responsibility. Our checks and balances have been broken. No one is holding our security machine accountable. It's going to have to be us. We mustn't look away. We have to rein in these programs, establish transparency and elect ethical, technologically literate representatives.

Ellsberg wrote:

"... with Edward Snowden having put his life on the line to get this information out, quite possibly inspiring others with similar knowledge, conscience and patriotism to show comparable civil courage -- in the public, in Congress, in the executive branch itself -- I see the unexpected possibility of a way up and out of the abyss."

This is possible only if we awake and demand it.

Watch Lessig's interview with Snowden here.

See the documentary Citizenfour.

"In a democratic republic," Snowden reminds us, "the government draws its legitimacy from the consent of the people."

What are we so afraid of?