Tim Gillis

Tim Gillis

Scott Cairns on poetry, politics, and the possibility of peace

Scott Cairns was born in Tacoma, Washington. He earned a BA from Western Washington University, an MA from Hollins College, an MFA from Bowling Green State University, and a PhD from the University of Utah. This interview was conducted by Tim Gillis ahead of Cairns' reading in South Portland on Jan. 30.

 

TG: How does geography influence your poetry?

 

SC: I don’t know that I consciously am aware of how it might. I do know I’ve been in exile for 40 years, wandering in the wilderness, as it were. I grew up here in the Pacific Northwest, but left for grad school in ’77 and then didn’t really get back until just now. Despite having lived and taught all around the country, this landscape has always been the landscape of my imagination. Maine is similar, the evergreen trees that creep down to the shore, the low skies on a cloudy day — I found it analogous to the kind of quiet that one pursues when settling into writing a poem or saying a prayer.

 

Besides writing poetry, Cairns has also written a spiritual memoir, Short Trip to the Edge (2007), and the libretto for the oratorios “The Martyrdom of Saint Polycarp” and “A Melancholy Beauty.”

 

TG: Talk about the element of spirituality in your work.

 

SC: When I started out, I was like most of my American contemporaries, working off of my own experiences and trying to find something useful to talk about. I guess at some point, around my second book, I started writing to find out, instead of writing what I thought I knew, poring over the language on the page, and looking for a glimpse of something I hadn’t previously apprehended. Most of my career now has been comprised of composing that way. Not too far along that way, I started attending to my own personal obsessions with God — using that practice to lean into an understanding of the nearness of God, developing through the poems, meditations, through that contemplative compressing of language, to appreciate how I might thereby commune with God. Not every poem, but most in the past 30-plus years have commenced that way.

 

Cairns has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and was awarded the Denise Levertov Award in 2014. He has taught at numerous universities including University of North Texas, Old Dominion University, Seattle Pacific University, and the University of Missouri. He also directs a low-residency MFA program at Seattle Pacific University.

 

TG: Tell me a bit about the nitty-gritty of your writing process?

 

SC: I use a legal pad and a pencil, and am usually reading something. What I’m reading is varied — a great poem or some theological text — Patristic Greek texts, the fathers of the church, early saints, and their writings.

 

TG: Can you contrast the processes of writing poetry, memoir, and libretti?

 

SC: They require a different filter of the head. With poetry, my primary mode, I write to find things out. If I have an idea before I start, I wait for that idea to go away. I want the language to tell me something I don’t yet apprehend. With the memoir, one begins with a template of actual events that I allow into the text in a way I wouldn’t have done with a poem. I want the events to be recorded and re-examined. Memoir is a way to revisit those occasions and glean from them a more useful sense of what to make of them, these visits to holy places and discussions with holy men. The contents of the libretti were pretty much determined by historical occasions — e.g. the martyrdom of St. Polycarp of Symrna. I worked with a composer who did the music. I supplied verses for moments in the score, then the composer worked from those and deduced from that matter the musical phrases he then composed and arranged.

 

TG: You’re founding director of Writing Workshops in Greece, a program that brings writers to study and engage with literary life in modern Greece. How did that enterprise come about?

 

SC: In college, I started reading patristic texts in translation, which eventually led me to becoming an Orthodox Christian. I suppose that the most noticeable Orthodox Christians in America are Greek Orthodox. My developing understanding of the faith led me to pay more attention to these early writings — many of which were written in Greek. I started learning Greek and also going to Greece to visit the monastic enclave of Mount Athos. As you probably know, the Byzantine Empire covered much of the Mediterranean from Venice east, and subsequently succumbed to Islamic takeover. The peninsula of Mount Athos is the last vestige of the Byzantine Empire. That world continues to this day, a part of Greece but not exactly, sort of like the Vatican in terms of self-governance. I initially developed the writing program as an excuse to go to Greece more frequently. As of this past December, I have gone to the holy mountain 24 times.

 

TG: A sharp contrast to disturbing recent news of religiously motivated attacks and threats of violence nationally. In Portland last Thursday (Jan. 19), a bomb threat was called into a Jewish pre-school. You’re reading at Congregation Bet Ha’am, a Reform Jewish congregation in South Portland, at an event hosted by the BTS Center, a United Church of Christ affiliate that’s ecumenical in nature. Talk about these intersections of politics and religion, and the possibilities for peace. And how can contemporary poetry speak to that end?

 

SC: Orthodox Christianity is probably the most Jewish of Christian expressions. In Orthodoxy, that connection with the Jewish faith has been maintained, even in the way the priests dress. Our original liturgies were composed by men who were Jews, adapting preexisting Jewish practices. As for myself, I’ve studied a good many rabbinic texts — Talmud, midrashim — early writings that result from one’s poring over perplexing moments in scripture. One writes poems from a place of understanding words, understanding the power of words, and honoring the discoveries that this uncommon degree of attention can avail. If there is a relationship between the poet and the politician, I’d say the poet examines the language of the politician for veracity. Poets in our culture now are in a position to challenge careless or misleading uses of language in the political realm. We are obliged to call attention to such abuses. We have an obligation to share what we see, speaking and writing against euphemism or obfuscation.

 

Poetry Reading by Scott Cairns, hosted by the BTS Center | Congregation Bet Ha'am, 81 Westbrook St., South Portland | Monday, Jan. 30 7-8 pm

Cairns is the author of eight books of poetry, including The Theology of Doubt (1985), The Translation of Babel (1990), Philokalia (2002), Idiot Psalms (2014), and Slow Pilgrim: The Collected Poems (2015). His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The Paris Review, The New Republic, Poetry, and elsewhere, and has been anthologized in Best Spiritual Writing and Best American Spiritual Writing.

  • Published in Arts

Forget about politics at the Wicked Good, Halfway Decent Un'naugural Ball

What better way to celebrate the inauguration than to skip it altogether and spend the evening laughing, dancing and raising money for a great cause?

The Mayo Street Arts Center is hosting the Wicked Good, Halfway Decent Un’naugural Ball on Friday, Jan. 20, to benefit Mayo Street Arts and the Maine Immigrant Musical Instrument Project, which helps new arrivals reconnect with their musical roots by finding them instruments and introducing them to local like-minded communities.

The Wicked Good Band will team up with the Half Moon Jug Band for the event. Troy R. Bennett, on guitar and banjo, says he is known as the Van Gogh of the banjo since “I only give the impression that I’m playing it.” He’s joined by “Frost” Steve Brewer on bass, kazoo, and sax and Jeff Hamm who plays a suitcase drum set made from old American Tourister luggage.

Bennett says the idea for the show came to him after the presidential election but stresses that it’s all about positive vibes, not protesting ones. 

“Everyone’s getting worked up over it,” he says of the election results. “They feel like they’ve lost control. We wanted to have a fun concert in town, where you aren’t spinning your wheels, to think about our own neighbors right here.”

That desire to help Portland’s new neighbors led him to Jenny Van West, the founder and director of the Maine Immigrant Musical Instrument Project. Bennett had written about her efforts for a local newspaper and quickly realized her story went on from where he’d left off.

“She had run into a new Mainer from Africa, who commented on the guitar she was carrying,” he says. “She found out that he’d fled Africa but was not able to bring his guitar. You know, while immigrants are waiting for a ruling on a work permit, they are barred from working, but it’s free to make music.”

After that initial chance encounter, Van West started work on the project, which is part of a larger effort called “Welcoming the New American Family,” orchestrated by Pastor Maurice Namwira. It brings together recent arrivals with folks who've been here longer, “making sure they are oriented, have household items, know what they need to do next for their asylum cases, and getting together to eat and play music and relax,” she said.

An early gathering at her house brought in “a mélange of people from 10 different African countries. We had all kinds of music - country, folk, traditional African music. Out of that, a grassroots network started to grow. There are a lot of them in Portland and they are starting to connect, moving into a more formal direction to tackle issues like housing and education since a lot of people are afraid to speak up. For now, we quietly see what can we do for someone to help them feel a little more integrated.”

She notes the various and deep psychological pressures on immigrants, based on what they've been through and how well they acclimate to their new surroundings.

“Music is a common thread. They could be from several different countries, but they all know all these songs,” she said. “Recently I delivered guitars to two people on the same night, men who are living in the same apartment. Typically, roommate situations for recent arrivals seeking asylum are not by choice - more like they are thrown in together because they all need a room and one is available in a particular apartment. One knew that I was coming; the other one did not. The one who knew I was coming is from DR Congo. There, when you receive a gift, the polite thing to do is to put it behind a closed door and open it later. To open it right then is considered rude. So that's what he did and quietly returned to talking with me. While my American self was disappointed that I would not see his reaction, I knew he was receiving this gift in absolutely the most respectful way possible, which made me feel great. The one who did not know I was coming is quite extroverted, and when he got the word I was there, came running out of his room so completely excited. He opened the thin case right up and pulled out the guitar. He sat right down, started playing and singing in a big gorgeous voice.”

Moving experiences like this one are not only felt when she delivers instruments to immigrants, but also when she receives a donation that has been played for generations.

“One of my African friends told me that giving instruments is an act of family,” she said. “If you’re here with no biological family, you feel like you’re at home.”

That sense of family pervades these organizations and is the driving force for the Un’naugural Ball.

“We’re totally into having a good time,” Bennett says. “Whatever happens with the new administration, people are going to need good times. We’re not against anybody. We’re just for stuff – for good times and making sure musicians get instruments in their hands.”

Wicked Good, Halfway Decent Un’naugural Ball | Friday, Jan. 20 at 7:30 p.m. | Mayo Street Arts, 10 Mayo Street, Portland | mayostreetarts.org |

Builder of the House release a gender-bending music video ahead of their first full length album

Local folk-pop duo Builder of the House is moving to the big time. Robert Cimitile (acoustic guitar, vocals) and Elliot Heeschen (drums and electric guitar) are set to release Ornaments, their first full-length work, with eight new tunes and a couple of reworked songs — “There Is No Hourglass, Only Sand” and “My New Eyes.”

An early peek at one of the new songs, “Look at the Man,” has been making rounds via YouTube, garnering widespread praise as a poignant look at former Maine celebrity Conor Leigh Tubbs (who recently moved to New York City). It’s a sublime video narrative, similar in tone to images by local photographer Smith Galtney, who captured Tubbs's vivid transformation to the drag artist Cherry Lemonade for a documentary film project for the Salt Institute.

The band’s music videos have always been their hallmark. “This Is No Hourglass,” directed by Cimitile and co-directed by Derek R. Brigham, won best video at the Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema and CutOut Fest. “A Plot in Falmouth” won best music video at the MOVE Music Festival and is based on the story of Cimitile's great-great grandparents, “on a ship that sailed from Liverpool to Maine” in 1895. He researched the history of it at the Portland Room of the Portland Public Library. The video plays like a silent film and is set in southern Maine.

“It’s super personal, and seemed like an excellent story to be a song,” he said. “Writing lyrics is a lot more challenging for me than the music. On that album, a lot of the songs were introspective. I was listening to a lot of Bright Eyes, mirroring that style. When we started writing tunes for the new album, we were trying to break away from that.”

So they moved from public research for private songs to domestic inspiration for more accessible hits. “When writing lyrics, I pace around my house thinking about a song. Then a phrase will come to me. I write it down, then keep pacing, over and over,” he said. “A lot of songs on the new album are based on sayings, for example ‘you are who you are when no one is looking’. Writing this way, I’m able to pull myself away from singing about myself; it’s not so personal.”

 music BuilderoftheHouse

For Ornaments, the duo worked with Todd Hutchisen at Acadia Recording Company. The Lucid’s Dominic Lavoie provides whistling for the new work. Colleen Clark, Clara Junken and Ashley Storrow add vocals. Bass duties were split between Andy Scherzer of Jaw Gems, and Drew Wyman, who also plays with Pete Witham.

Dan Capaldi helped them arrange the record. “On some songs he was super-involved,” Heeschen said. “Others not so much, but he listened to every track and throughout the album was able to come up with something we had not thought of that made the songs complete.

Forward to Go Back

Builder of the House may have expanded their repertoire, but their music has always retained that creative element. They both played in the Maine Marimba Ensemble — “a fun enterprise where there’s not as much pressure as playing your own stuff,” Heeschen says. When the two began playing with the MME, “Rob was already working on the first EP and he was looking for someone to drum live. He was playing with a lot of local musicians, and I seemed to be the common denominator. Then it became more like we were the band.”

Their name comes from a meditation retreat Cimitile once attended. A recorded recitation of Buddhist scripture was playing, and he was particularly moved by the story of Siddhartha sitting under the tree, awaiting divine revelation.

“He refuses to get up until he achieves enlightenment,” Cimitile recalls. “When he finally does, he opens his eyes and says ‘Ah, builder of the house, I have seen you and you can no longer build a house for me because I’ve taken all your mortar and smashed all your bricks.’ I was in a rough spot at the time, and whenever I thought of this phrase later, it reminded me of trying to be better.”

And the band is. A little bit Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits, a simmering blend of story and song. And a new album for the new year.

 

Watch "Look At The Man" here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EkdPkizADUk

  • Published in Music

Dave Gutter shares his year's high moments

Rustic Overtones open for Matisyahu at the State Theatre on New Year’s Eve in an all-ages show. For Dave Gutter, the band’s frontman, it has been a year of collaboration and fruition for projects that highlight his wordsmithing for others and influence on their musical careers.

“A lot of stuff I’d been writing the last three years culminated this year,” Gutter said in a recent interview with The Phoenix.

Aaron Neville released “Apache,” with lyrics Gutter co-wrote with Eric Krasno based on Neville’s poems.

“Working on the Neville record has been a dream gig,” Krasno said of the release. On it, he worked with Gutter, imagining Neville’s life through at least 50 poems he had sent them.

“The cool thing for me was laying down music and melodies, like painting a picture. We created the sketch and Aaron would add the color. He was very involved in the process, something he had not done on his records in a very long time,” Krasno said. “The excitement level between all of us was high.”

Gutter pushed Krasno, the songwriter, to move to the front of the stage and sing his own songs, which resulted in Krasno’s debut album, Blood from a Stone. Krasno credits Gutter and other Maine musicians with helping him make the jump, giving him the necessary confidence in his own voice.

Another high note, literally, for Gutter was his work on a single from GRiZ’s new album. In addition to the novel song, Grant Kwiecinski, who at 25 is already an electronic funk icon, also introduced GRiZ Kush, the artist’s own strain of weed that is sold legally in Denver, Co.

“With the writing thing, it’s been a busy year,” Gutter said, but added that the creative, collaborative process dates back even longer. “We started that four years ago. So sometimes after you write the songs, the bands tour and play them, record them. Now we’re at a place where it’s looping around and seems current.”

Over time, Gutter’s vocal range has moved from sandpaper scratchy rock anthems like Paranoid Social Club’s “We All Got Wasted” to hauntingly mellow love ballads, like those off his new album Armies, a duo endeavor with Anna Lombard.

His songwriting may have been overlooked comparatively, but industry insiders know he can crank out catchy bumper sticker lyrics and social commentary with music’s best. In a year that saw Bob Dylan win a Nobel Prize for Literature, the establishment types are starting to appreciate songwriting as a serious art form.

For Gutter, a low note this year was the death of David Bowie. The Maine minstrel joined up with other local legends in a tribute to Ziggy Stardust held at the State Theatre days after news came down. He played “Sector Z” with Jeff Beam, Dominic Lavoie, and Mat Zaro.

Another high point for Gutter — again, literally — was when he and fiancée Kaitlyn Gradie had their engagement photographs taken on the side of a cliff in the White Mountains.

“We went to the top in the early morning dark,” he said. “They dropped us down with harnesses, and as the sun came up, they took the pictures.” Philbrick Photography provided the aerial hijinks on Cathedral Ledge. The couple plans to get married, perhaps in the new year, but they are waiting to announce a date, “waiting to throw a crazy party."

More big news for the coming year: Rustic Overtones have begun work on a new album, one that will be a decidedly different product than in years past.

“It’s a collection of instrumentals I’m currently writing over,” Gutter said. “A world music vibe, heavily South American and Brazilian. I discovered some cool music from the late ’60s and ’70s, from Brazilian psychedelic rock bands. We love to make music like that, always trying to push forward.”

From the studio to the stage, the band continues to break barriers. “We resurrect all of our music when we play live,” he said of the upcoming State show, “and we’ll have fresh new versions with a different feel.”

Gutter has not played with Matisyahu before, but knows several of the guys from his band, having met them through Krasno. “I’ve never even seen Matis live, so I’m looking forward to do my set and then just chill, hang out with the drunk guys who know every word to your songs.”

 

Details:

Matisyahu w/ Rustic Overtones & Alec Benjamin

Doors: 8 pm / Show: 9 pm

$20 Early Bird / $30 Advance / $35 Day of Show

This event is ALL AGES

  • Published in Music

The Mallett Brothers will end a busy year at PHOME

Coming off a whirlwind tour of the United States this past year and playing as many as 190 shows, the Mallett Brothers say it will be “cool to cap it off at home,” on New Year’s Eve at the Portland House of Music and Events.

“In 2016, it turned into gigging harder than ever,” Luke Mallett said in a recent interview with The Phoenix, “playing five days a week throughout the summer. We’ve gone to Texas twice, and back and forth to Colorado.”

After several years as a tight, cohesive group, the band has been practicing overtime to fit in two new musicians — Adam Cogswell on drums who replaced Brian Higgins, and Andrew Martelle, formerly of North of Nashville, on fiddle and mandolin.

“In seven years, we’ve gone through more than one lineup change,” Luke said. “When we lost Brian and started with Adam, it took some adjusting. With these two new additions, we now have even more renewed energy when we play live. Martelle is a great element to add. Having a fiddle brings things to life.”

The band is based around Luke and Will Mallett, on vocals and guitar. Along with the new additions, Wally plays guitar and dobro and adds vocals. Nick Leen plays bass guitar. Their release last year, Lights Along the River, garnered widespread acclaim and raucous crowds.

What may surprise their loyal following is a secret work they’ve been honing for several years now. Expected to come out in February of 2017, The Falling of the Pine is a return to their musical roots with a typical added flourish. It is inspired in part by their time in the Maine woods while working on their last album and a book Will found on his parents’ bookshelf. The Falling of the Pine offers up ten tunes based on lyrics discovered in that book, Minstrelsy of Maine, a 1927 collection of folk songs and logging lyrics written by Fannie Hardy Eckstorm of Brewer. The band met each day for a few hours, delving into some of this rich Maine history for the new material.

“We’ve been working on it long enough. It took us quite some time,” Luke said of the upcoming LP, for which they added musical score to the words. “We picked at this in-between (live shows and other studio work). We’ve got the record finished, the artwork back, and we’re feeling close.”

The band plans a Maine theater tour for the spring, playing in some opera houses as well, a fitting backdrop for these traditional tunes. Acknowledging the value of the stories behind the songs, The Falling of the Pine is the band’s first record for which they will release a booklet of lyrics. “We’ve been asked for years to do that, and finally thought this is the one. It has the lyrics as well as quotes from the author,” Luke said.

The two Mallett brothers come from a family with a strong folk tradition. Their father Dave has churned out Maine folk songs and ballads for four decades and is featured on their last album. Their mother Jayne Lello worked with a University of Maine professor, Sandy Ives, back in the 1960s, collecting and archiving traditional songs when she first learned of Minstrelsy. Although the researching duo created some vinyl versions of the songs, the Mallett Brothers were keen to keep away from their influence and, in the folk tradition, rework the music.

“They were singing some of these songs in the traditional Irish folk way. Our mother has a copy. We heard it and knew about it, but we tried to avoid it,” Luke said. “We had a pretty good idea anyway, but we started from scratch. We wanted to match the feeling of the lyrics to the instruments we are playing now and the general feel of the whole thing. It is different, definitely not a traditional record. We did traditional songs in a non-traditional way.”

Excitement brims for the new work with the old songs, but the singer took a moment to reflect on the hubbub of the outgoing year. He said a high note was playing at Floydfest in July.

“It sets the bar for festivals,” he said. “It’s smaller than some, tucked in the mountains in Floyd, V, in Blueridge. It’s a real scene — a collection of music lovers like I’ve never seen. The people are cool, and the bands they brought in offer a lot to up-and-coming bands.”

Turning their sights on the year-ending show, the band is thrilled to be billed with Samuel James and his full band. They see the “grit and gravel” performer as a perfect fit for their folksy, countrified sound. “We have been trying to put a show together with him for five years, and it just finally worked out.”

Members of Jaw Gems reflect on the success of their latest album, Heatweaver

Get in shape for New Year’s Eve by grooving to local neolegends Jaw Gems, who open for Lettuce and Tauk at the State Theatre on December 30, a funky all-ages affair. We caught up with Andrew Scherzer, the band’s electric bass player to talk about their new album Heatweaver and its reception, their upgrade in venue size — hopping from a residency at Local 188 to Portland House of Music and Events to the State — and the band’s reaction to winning Deli Magazine’s New England Artist of the Month award this week.

 

Andrew Scherzer: The band hasn’t been together as much lately, each busy with individual works and Thanksgiving, but when [the album] came out, we were very excited. It’s cool and sort of surreal. Anytime we find out that people like the way we play — it’s awesome, exciting and very weird too. No matter what happens, I’m like, 'people like us?' It’s like the surprise when getting the job and saying ‘What? You believed my resume?’ Anytime anyone takes some time out of their day to recognize some sort of art that you are putting out is a real honor.”

 

Tim Gillis: You’re touring with Lettuce. Tell us what that’s like.

 

AS: We’ve played with them before. Last year, we played with them at the State and did three or four shows with them, including one in September Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel in Providence. They’ve taken us out for some one-off gigs. I would say they’re my favorite band. And in meeting them, we found that they’re the funnest guys to hang out with.

 

TG: Where is the tour headed in the New Year?

 

AS: We’re tagging along on the East Coast side of their tour, from Boston to Florida for a couple of weeks, playing quite a few shows with them. Then we are heading to LA to play a hip-hop showcase, then linking up with Papadosio for some of their tour in the Southwest and finishing up in Atlanta. We’re going on the road for about two months.

 

TG: There’s been a big buzz around your recent release. A lot has been happening for the band since the release of Heatweaver. The response, both critically and from newer fans from farther away; what’s that been like?

 

AS: It’s been great. Our second album, Blades Plural, got a great reception, but it was before we were brought out nationally. We were playing other places, playing with great bands, and then put out the new album. Portland and the Maine music scene has to be one of the most supportive communities in the country. We couldn’t be a band without it, but putting out an album and have people who don’t know you, to have those people pick it up … it’s not better than when you play in Portland, [but] it’s just different and new. I probably speak for the whole band when I say it’s a great and weird feeling when people have no reason to like your music — they’re not your friends’ friends. When you know that the reason they dig your music is all their own.

 

TG: How does an improviser practice?

 

AS: That depends on the intent of practice. If we’re rehearsing to get ready for shows, we’re not really writing new things, not changing things. We’re just trying to play the music and not stagnate. You want the thing to sound like it’s new and fresh. And it probably sounds counterintuitive, but you don’t want to practice too much and just move your hands mindlessly. So we don’t put too many rules on how we’re going to play. We don’t want a dance song to turn into a happy ballad, but other than that, there are no rules.

 

Jaw Gems is made up of Ahmad Hassan Muhammad and Tyler Quist, both on keyboard and samplers, D.J. Moore on drums, and Andrew Scherzer on electric bass. Each of them plays in at least two different bands, but Jaw Gems is now their main project and focal point for playing live.

  • Published in Music

Newly opened Mini Mogadishu offers authentic Somali cuisine

Somalis in the greater Portland area can get a taste of home at Mini Mogadishu, the new Forest Avenue restaurant that opened Saturday. It’s owned and operated by Nimo and Halimo Mohamud, spiritual sisters and pioneers in an ethnic fare usually served up by men.

Al Huda, Fez Mediterranean, and Asmara offer Somali and the somewhat similar Eritrean food, as do several other markets dotted in between, but the tendency is that some can turn into hang out spots for males, making it awkward for young African women to share the same space.

Mini Mogadishu is not designed just for women of course, but the idea is to have it run by women making authentic homemade Somali food, with an enclosed space in the restaurant reserved for women where they can comfortably remove their hijabs.

Halimo Mohamud came to Portland in 1999. Nimo arrived a couple of years later. They met in 2002 through a mutual friend and discovered they were from the same Abgaal tribe. They talked about their new lives as immigrants, raising kids in a foreign community, and agreed that mealtime was a solidifying experience.

“Growing up in Somalia made you tough but empathetic. Surrounded by such uncertainty and hardship meant that sometimes the only good part of life was the time spent with family around the dinner table,” Nimo said. “I’ve watched a large group of kids grow. Some of them my own and some of them within my neighborhood and community. I remember them coming to my house with my children to have supper with us. It is a nice feeling knowing that however small, I did have a little impact on their maturity through a home cooked meal.”

Halimo and her cousin had operated a transportation company. Nimo drove for them, and plans began for the restaurant.

Operating all day, Mini Mogadishu will serve classic Somali breakfast fare including aanjeero crepes (a fermented pancake-like bread) with hilib (goat or beef) or chicken sugar. Lunchtime offerings include dalac bilash (a tomato soup), boor (fried dough), mushaari bowl (porridge), and fresh pita or jaapaati. For sipping, there'll be fruit smoothies and mango or guava juice.

“And many Italian foods,” said Abdul Yousef, Nimo’s son who painted the left side of the wall blue with a large white star to reflect the Somali flag. “Italians were settlers in Somalia and part of their culture was left behind. Lasagna, ziti, spaghetti — there are a lot of pasta dishes in our culture.”

Yousef's sister Hanan and brother Abdi helped renovate the restaurant from its former days as Nur’s, Abdi Rahman’s Halaal Market. In addition to painting the walls, the family tackled the kitchen and bathroom, and tore up layers of tile floors. But they kept the brick oven to consider serving pizza.

“There’s a big difference for what you need in a kitchen between a restaurant and a market,” Yousef said.

The changes were a necessary attempt to put their mark on the building, but the look will keep evolving. According to Yousef, conformity is not so important in Somali culture, so he'll have a mix of rearrangeable booth and single seating, a café and a more private section for women only.

With family style seating available, Mini Mogadishu can accommodate eight to ten people.

“We want to reflect how people do things in their own homes, and try to do our best to recreate that,” Yousef said.

  • Published in Food

New exhibit of dinosaur bones, dung, art and animatronics educate (and terrify) visitors

A new dinosaur exhibit at the Portland Science Center combines childhood wonders with an art show for the grown-ups. Dinosaurs Unearthed has enough life-sized animatronic dinosaurs, skeletons, and fossils to keep busloads of kids entertained and enthralled for hours. And a decades-long painting project by artist Philip Carlo Paratore will keep the chaperones from getting restless.

Powered by customized mechanical technology and a dynamic jointing system, the dinosaurs, ranging from a Velociraptor to a Triceratops to a juvenile T-Rex come to virtual life in the exhibit, which places each creature in naturalistic indoor landscapes.

Thirteen of the dinosaurs are fully animatronic, and more recent research has led exhibitors to add feathers to several of the creatures.

A couple of short films help ease the introduction for timid youngsters and provide elementary content for teachers to consider adding to their lesson plans.

“We did a teacher preview and the response was phenomenal,” said Matt Stone, the sales and marketing director at the PSC on Commercial Street. “Some of this curriculum has been dropped (in schools). The teachers were talking about how they can bring it back.”

The hour-long tour has parents and educators giving hands-on guidance, making sure the youngest of their entourage don’t get frightened by the sights.

“Some kids are a little bit scared to go in. Kids under six – I’d say about 25 percent of them are nervous. But going in, only 10 percent needed to be calmed down,” Stone said. “It’s noisy. There’s lots of growling.”

The PSC says their show challenges beliefs about how dinosaurs lived, looked and sounded in pre-historic times. “In relatively recent years, paleontologists have come to believe that some dinosaurs are the ancestors of modern birds - leading to the hypothesis that some dinosaurs may have been feathered.”

TJI dinosaurs StegosaurusandTuojiangosaurus skeleton

 

REAL BONES - In addition to the animatronics, the Dinosaurs Unearthed exhibit features two full sized skeletons of a Stegosaurus and a Tuojiangosaurus.

They hope this new angle will add to the attraction for grade school students. They offer a guide to help educators make connections between the material presented in the tour and national curriculum standards for STEM (or science, technology, engineering, and math) goals.

Students (primarily K-8) can participate in activities, games, puzzles, and six different lessons plans including Mesozoic Math and Dinosaur Detectives, where junior paleontologists dig into a sand pit for skeletal remains at the “Kids Dig Table.”

They can also take in genuine fossils like the egg of an Oviraptor, which is Latin, ironically enough, for “egg stealer.” The most bird-like of the non-avian dinosaurs, its nesting position found in one specimen suggested the presence of feathered wings. The PSC’s exhibit also includes a feathered T-Rex.

Students can check out coprolite, or dung stone, a deceptively valuable item in the exhibit since animal excrement is easily fragmented or destroyed and whole fossilized remains are rare. In addition to the animatronic creatures, the exhibition will feature full-sized skeletons: a Yangchuanosaurus and a Tuojiangosaurus.

Dinosaurs may seem like familiar fodder for museum exhibits, but this is the first time Dinosaurs Unearthed has made it to New England, and perhaps the biggest addition to the show is a powerful series of paintings by Philip Carlo Paratore. As a ten-year-old boy growing up in Manhattan, he loved drawing pictures of animals and taking trips to the American Museum of Natural History.

“I clearly remember that first visit,” he said from South Portland this week. “When I returned years later, I sought to turn it into a project as an adult.”

The resulting decades-long artistic venture is called The Dinosaur Portfolio, with more than 100 paintings rendered primarily in oil paints while some of the works were started in acrylic for the foundation. The exhibit has been shown at The Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia and the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Canada.

Paratore, who teaches art classes at the University of Southern Maine, said his personal work and public teaching allow him “ways to discuss several big ideas – extinction, evolution, even global warming.” His art and educational experiences have informed his research, leading to journeys to Stonehenge, the Paleolithic caves at Lascaux and Fonte de Gaume, and the Olduvai Gorge (in modern-day Tanzania).

The most recent and exciting aspect of The Dinosaur Portfolio, he says, occurred when he made the connection between landscape paintings inspired by satellite photographs of earth and his earlier work depicting fossilized dinosaur bones.

TJI Dinosaurs Body LanguageStyracosaur Series Photocourtesy of Philip Carlo Paratore

SCIENCE AND ART - There are over 100 pieces of art in the Dinosaur Portfolio, all of which blend visual elements inspired by landscape paintings, satellite photography and fossilized bones. 

The images “strive to make a connection between science and art, but they are essentially metaphorical and poetic rather than explanatory. Each painting may be viewed as a visual experiment: an interplay of technical symbol, diagrammatic schema, naturalistic representation, and artistic metaphor,” said Paratore, who used to have occasional shows at Davidson and Daughters Contemporary Art Gallery, but has focused on teaching more lately.  With huge prehistoric beasts and the fine, delicate lines of art, the Dinosaurs Unearthed exhibit has exciting sights and lessons for all-aged students.

For information on the exhibition and to purchase tickets, visitportlandsciencecenter.com.

Heavyweight champ Larry Holmes hits town, talks Trump

Larry Holmes, the former heavyweight champion of the world from 1978 to 1983, was ringside for boxing at the Portland Expo last weekend — and he didn't pull any punches in a pre-event interview where he said President-elect Donald Trump struck him as a man "guided by the damn devil."

Holmes grew up in Easton, Penn., which gave birth to his boxing nickname, “The Easton Assassin.” He waged 20 successful title defenses, making him third all time, behind only Joe Louis at 25 and Wladimir Klitschko at 22. Holmes is also one of only five boxers to defeat Muhammad Ali and the only one to have won by knockout.

Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini and Michael Spinks have appeared in Portland before to support the local fight game and help it continue its success across the country. Holmes settled into the action Saturday after receiving a key to the city from Mayor Ethan Strimling.

sports boxing LarryHolmes PhotoByKineoPhotography

Larry Holmes with Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling.

Before the fight, Holmes talked about his career in boxing, what the future holds for young boxers, and his reaction to the presidential election.

“I’m like Donald Trump. I’m in the game. He says they rigged it, but Donald’s in the game. He was talking about the election being 'rigged' and it was – for him. He’s like (Russian President Vladimir) Putin. I think it was rigged for him to win because (Hillary) Clinton knows more about politics than any of those people know. Sixteen years, and you tell me she doesn’t know politics more than anyone else?”

He apologized for getting riled up about the election results, but says he’s mad the country fell for Trump’s phantom punches. “I don’t like politics. I say Clinton got a raw deal. I might not like it, but she accepted it. I know Donald Trump. I boxed at his hotel. His attitude — when you get to meet him — I didn't get a good vibe from him. So what he's rich? Big deal. I guess I know God better than he does. He's not guided by God. He's guided by the damn devil.”

Holmes turned to the positives and said boxing can help young pugilists fight their way out of tough circumstances. “Young fighters — they’re tomorrow. We’re today. (Boxing) can help kids move away from crimes and criminals. I kept my nose clean. I fought for 38 years and you didn’t hear anything involving trouble with me.” He admitted that boxing involves an element of trash-talking, when it’s important ahead of a bout to get into your opponent’s head.

“Sometimes you say things you shouldn’t say, get them going, but you don’t really mean it. After the fight, you hug each other.” He views boxing as a fair way to judge the superiority between two opponents, at least from a technical, physical sense.

“You can see who’s tougher,” he said from his home in Houston, Texas, before traveling to Maine for the Portland Boxing Club’s 103rd match. “Let’s box. There are three people sitting on the side who say if you won or not. That’s the way people get along. I love the game of boxing. You can’t beat it.”

Holmes thinks he was in Maine before but can’t be sure. Either way, he was proud to make the trip in an effort to bring out fight fans and support the PBC’s continued efforts to help youngsters fine-tune their game and use the in-ring code to give structure in their daily lives, “not to curse and be nasty. It will be an important trip. It’s exciting. I get a chance to meet different kinds of people and attitudes. I’m afraid of bears and snakes, so I don’t want to go too far into Maine.”

Holmes says his proudest moment in boxing came in 1978 when he beat Ken Norton in a bruising 15-round fight. “Some many people who know me, people I grew up with, said I could not be champion. I proved them wrong. If you work hard at something, you can accomplish it. I always let people know – jobs are not just about salaries or PhD’s. They’re about common sense. I learned from the best – Ali, (Joe) Frazier, (Earnie) Shavers. I learned how to not take punches, how to not get roughed up so much I couldn’t enjoy my life after the game, with my kids and grandkids.”

Invited to check out the city's noted restaurants, Holmes said, “I want to eat but I can’t eat too much. A couple of months ago I was diagnosed with diabetes. I’m trying to lose some weight, but I just keep eating.”

ABOUT THE BOXING EVENT

Russell Lamour Jr. continued his winning ways Saturday night, besting Jaime Barboza in a unanimous decision at the Portland Expo. Bobby Russo, Portland Boxing Club founder, said it was a fitting end to an evening of tight fights. Lamour is the former New England and North American middleweight champion, but lost his title to Thomas Falawo last year. He has since won three matches in a row.

“Russell dropped him in the first round with an unbelievable uppercut. It was near the end of the round, and Barboza survived. Then he got Russell in the second round. This match was the icing on the cake, and there were competitive matches all the way through.”

Another PBC fighter, super bantamweight Jorge Abiague, won by unanimous decision over Basilio Nieves of Lawrence, Mass. In the other pro bout on the night, Casey Kramlich, a PBC fighter out of Raymond, defeated Larry Smith of Texas.

  • Published in Sports

Scott Nash opens "Picture This," an illustration exhibit and workshop open to everyone

A new nonprofit in Portland wants to make learning the illustrative arts more affordable and available to a wider audience, so it’s setting up shop at the Portland Public Library.

Scott Nash, director of the Illustration Institute, says “anyone can join in. That’s one of the reasons we want this in a public place, like a library as opposed to a typical art school or university.”

He hopes the locale and sliding scale fees will attract nascent artists to the workshops, lectures, films, and exhibits that will be held at the PPL over the next 12 months. Then, half of the exhibit will travel to public libraries in Boston, Philadelphia, and Portland, Ore. adding in local works to connect it to the community.

A new $65,000 grant from the Maine Community Foundation will go a long way to aiding their efforts.

“Illustration is a pretty wide field,” he said. “We really want to tap into a more diverse student base. In every city we go to, we’ll actively look for the type of artist who might not traditionally go to art school.”

The institute will charge varying rates. There’s no set curriculum, with visiting artists and speakers suggesting ideas for workshops. It all kicks off with an exhibit at the PPL called “Picture This…” that presents completed works by several local and national artists, along with “process or inspiration boards” that show what the finished pieces looked like in all their earlier stages.

“It’s more than an exhibit,” he said. “It’s part of a program. We want to travel and talk about how illustration connects to storytelling, and bring artists to these cities and make another connection to these illustrators.”

The works in “Picture This...” span a broad range of illustration from children’s picture books to applied illustration, editorial, animation, cartoon and tattoo art. As the title of the exhibition implies, “Picture This...” intends to provide a view into how specific media the public encounters every day are enhanced by illustration and further, how an aspiring illustrator might picture themselves in this fulfilling and diverse profession.

A series of free-range teaching workshops last year prompted Nash to create the non-profit. Nash had invited several accomplished artists, including Bob Mankoff, cartoon editor of The New Yorker, and Emily Flake, an up-and-coming illustrator based in New York, to share their insights with MECA students and alumni.

Afterwards, Bob sidled up to me and told me two alums told him it was their best experience. My nose got out of joint for a second,” said Nash, who has taught at Boston University, Northeastern University and The Art Institute of Boston. “Then I realized this is really good. I remembered that I’d had similar experiences in several ways.”

Flake’s lecture and four-hour workshop “schooled me,” he said. He invited her to come back this year and talk about her work, which is for a decidedly adult audience.

“I wanted to balance it out with darker material as well,” Nash said of the exhibit, which includes some of Flake’s work, as well as the processes involved with tattooing.

Flake grew up near Hartford, Ct. and now lives in Brooklyn. She looks forward to returning to Maine this summer to discuss her craft.

“I can take on some darker things without getting too overweening,” she said. “I can explore darker chambers of the human heart and still make it funny. It’s always been my temperament to approach the heavier things with a lighter approach – in both my work and my life.”

Flake has no particular interest in being edgy but thinks it’s important for any artist to tell the truth. “Not to expose a great human truth in cartoons, but I’m aiming for humor and honesty,” she said.

The idea of opening the arts up to non-college participants sits well with her.

“Art school can be very useful,” she said. “My only hesitation with art schools now is that the cost is getting so out of control. If you want to go the education route, continuing ed classes are a more economical way to do that. You can develop relationships with the peers you admire and from whom you’d like to learn things. One of the most important things about art school is being around other artists, but it doesn’t have to be a formal arrangement. You can go online, get out into your neighborhood, or go to a comic convention. I was very lucky to be able to go to school, but being exposed to an artist’s work ethic is just as important as instruction.”

Nash, who established the Illustration Department at the Maine College of Art and teaches there now, realized that learning about art often happens outside the classroom walls.

“As an artist, I thought back on monumental moments in my art career, with many that were in classes,” he said. “But these experiences where I would meet someone in a studio, where they worked - that has informed me as much as art school.”

The exhibit will show the broad range of illustration, from children’s books to tattoo art, and Nash predicts one of the more popular workshops will be the one on tattooing, presented by Danielle Madore of the Black Hen studio in South Portland.

“She’s doing traditional as well as expressive tattoos,” Nash said. “I think she’s planning to do a roundtable discussion with a number of tattoo artists in the area.”

The new nonprofit will not compete with other art schools, including MECA. “They are a sponsor,” he said. “There’s no competition. This idea is an addition, another way to step into this world.”

A component of the Illustration Institute will be six weeks of intensive workshops called “Maine’s Children’s Book Art,” covering the art of making children’s books. “Not so much on the business side,” Nash said. “We’re more interested in the art and how far we can take children’s books.”

Having worked previously with Nickelodeon, PBS, ABC, Comedy Central, Disney, Mattel, Microsoft, Milton Bradley, and the Boston Children’s Museum, Nash still sees the Illustration Institute as a capstone to his career.

“I’m having the time of my life with this.”

 

Exhibit Details:

Picture This... The Art and Workings of Illustration Institute will be on display at Portland Public Library’s Lewis Gallery from Oct. 7 through Dec. 17. The Illustration Institute will be providing workshops, lectures and film at the library through October of 2017.

 

As part of the exhibit, rarely seen “behind-the-scenes” process pieces are included for each final work. “The artists have generously provided early ideas, abandoned sketches, revised and reworked versions based on collaborations with their clients or editors, inviting an intimate look into the artist's studio in order to show the real effort and joy of illustrating for a living,” Nash said.

  • Published in Art
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