Artbeat: 'Meat for Tea' leaps off the page

Last modified: Friday, November 27, 2015
*Archive Article*

One of many compelling readings and performances that occurred in downtown Greenfield this past weekend as part of the Greenfield Annual Word Festival was a reading by writers whose work appears in the newest issue of the literary journal, Meat for Tea: The Valley Review.

The sixth Greenfield Annual Word Festival took place over six nights in multiple venues throughout downtown Greenfield, with the Arts Block serving as the main venue and largest performance space.

Over the week, 130 writers performed, across genres. The Mole storytelling contest, which was judged by the audience, was a particular crowd pleaser and packed the Arts Block.

The Meat for Tea reading was Saturday afternoon.

Founded in 1996 by Elizabeth MacDuffie and Alexandra Wagman, Meat for Tea’s mission is to be “a non-academic affiliated magazine committed to recognizing and featuring the work of the artists, writers, and musicians living in western Massachusetts and beyond.”

MacDuffie, who lives in Easthampton, says the idea came from Wagman, who turned to her one day in the adjunct office of Holyoke Community College where they both worked and said, “We should start a literary ’zine.”

The journal’s name came from a misspelled invitation to “meat for tea,” posted on MacDuffie’s MySpace account from a man looking for a date. MacDuffie declined the invitation but kept the phrase.

Each issue of the journal has a thematic subtitle that carries either a meat or a tea reference: “Chop,” “Darjeeling,” “Bone,” “Chamomile.” The most recent issue, released in September, Volume 9, Issue 3, is subtitled: “Tripe.”

Six readers, including MacDuffie, Lea Banks of Gill, Gerald Yelle of Greenfield and Recorder features editor Samantha Wood, took the stage at the festival’s main stage at The Arts Block Saturday afternoon, giving the audience a little taste of Meat for Tea.

MacDuffie’s reading included an alphabet poem of insults to a former lover that had the audience chuckling. Michael Alves followed with a quiet, tense poem that described having “to take the pills that scratch like rats as they go down” in order to stay sane.

Banks, co-founder of the new Wagon Wheel Word open mic series that will hold its second event Monday, Nov. 2, 6 p.m., read ‘Reno,’ a brief memoir about her younger days hitchhiking across the country with her then-boyfriend Jessie.

Current and back issues of Meat for Tea were on sale at the festival’s book fair, the varied art of its covers eye-catching. The most recent cover features a realistically rendered portrait of a young woman gazing over her shoulder with a “what are you looking at?” stare. Behind her, a ghostly, anatomical drawing of a skull drives home the fact that mortality lies just beneath the skin.

Other covers resemble surrealist paintings, children’s book illustrations or drawings from graphic novels. The unifying thread, as with the work inside, is that each is the product of a strong, unique vision.

Meat for Tea was selected as a winner in the literary magazine category for the 57th annual New England Book Show, and took first place in graphic design for the 58th annual New England Book Show in 2015. These honors were conferred by Bookbuilders of Boston. Meat for Tea has been awarded multiple grants from the Northampton Arts Council and from the Easthampton Cultural Council.

In the beginning, Wagman created the journal in a word processing program and Paradise Copies in Northampton did all the necessary tweaks — which were many, MacDuffie says with a laugh — to bring each issue to fruition. Now, MacDuffie’s husband, Mark Miller, does the layout and graphic design, and MacDuffie has taken over all editorial tasks, with the help of two interns.

Miller also helps MacDuffie to produce “cirques,” lively events held to launch each quarterly issue of the journal. The cirques include spoken word performances, visual art exhibits, experimental films and live music. They’re held at Sonelab, the recording studio that Miller and business partner Justin Pizzoferrato own in Easthampton, and spill over into the neighboring Abandoned Building Brewery. (Both businesses are at 142 Pleasant St., Easthampton.)

The cirques, which have earned the support of the Easthampton Cultural Council, are MacDuffie’s nod to the multimedia “happenings” that occurred in New York City in the ’60s and ’70s, when she was a teenager.

“I was very envious of people who were 10 or 20 years my senior who were able to go to these things,” MacDuffie said.

“So my response was to make them now!”

“They’re meant to be very, very fun,” MacDuffie says. And also to provide emerging writers and artists with the chance to meet and get to know established ones.

Meat for Tea, while dedicated to providing a venue for western Massachusetts writers and artists, has always had a strong representation of work by established ones from around the world. MacDuffie feels the mix helps to put western Massachusetts on the map as a place where arts and literature matter.

Submission deadline for the next issue is Nov. 6. The theme, “Tete de Veau,” means, literally, “calf’s head” in French but is a culinary term that describes dishes made from calf or beef brains.

MacDuffie emphasizes that the themes are not to be taken literally.

“I think the theme, even if it is just lingering at the back of someone’s mind, affects what they choose to send in. It has a unifying effect on the magazine. Sometimes magically so,” MacDuffie says.

There is a $4.50 submission fee that MacDuffie reminds potential submitters is about the price of a Starbucks coffee. Submission fees, advertising and grants help keep the journal afloat.

“Submit absolutely clean copy,” MacDuffie offers by way of advice. “And if you do get rejected, don’t get upset. … Lately the bar for Meat for Tea has gotten very, very high.”

Being rejected is just part of being a writer, MacDuffie adds. It’s better to use rejection as a prod to assess your work and try to improve it.

Reading at least one issue, if not several, is always a good idea before submitting, MacDuffie says. If the $10 price seems prohibitive, MacDuffie points out, “For people who are pinching pennies, it’s at Forbes Library (in Northampton).”

MacDuffie says she’s looking for work that’s “a little unnerving.”

“A great piece of art should not leave you feeling calm and complacent,” MacDuffie says. “It should strike a chord. It should be sublime in the real sense of the word.” You might be a little bit afraid in the presence of a great work of art, MacDuffie continues.

“You might be a little horrified. … If you go to a reading or a gallery and you come away thinking, ‘That was nice, that was pleasant.’ then I think that artist failed. Art’s not meant to be safe.”

How to get published

On Saturday, Nov. 7 at 10:30 a.m. the Lilly Library in Florence, MacDuffie will participate in an editors panel discussion including Lori Desrosiers, editor of the Naugatuck River Review, Jennifer Acker, editor of The Common, and Emily Wojcik, managing editor of The Massachusetts Review. All who are curious about how to get their work published, what editors look for in submissions, and their philosophies, should come.

Contact: Meat for Tea c/o Elizabeth MacDuffie, meatfortea@gmail.com. For more information or to submit: www.meatfortea.com

Trish Crapo is a writer and photographer who lives in Leyden. She can be reached at tcrapo@me.com.