Meat for Tea presents ‘Cirque du Septième’

Last modified: Thursday, April 04, 2013

Some seven years ago, Heather MacDuffie received an invitation to have a cup of tea from a guy who was interested in her. She was intrigued, until she noticed that the invitation, which had been posted to her MySpace page, had an odd phrase in it: MacDuffie had been asked if she wanted to “meat for tea.”

At the time, she was teaching English at Holyoke Community College, and she laughs when she recalls turning down the invite because of the misspelling. “As as English professor, what was I supposed to think of that?”

But the phrase “meat for tea” stayed with her — and when she and a former teaching colleague, Alexandra Wagman, decided to start a literary journal, it seemed like a catchy title — and it stuck.

Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, a quarterly publication featuring fiction, poetry, art, creative nonfiction and other material, is about to celebrate its seventh anniversary. And MacDuffie, the journal’s editor, and her supporters are set to celebrate that anniversary with an evening of music, performance and art Saturday at Sonelab Recording studio in Easthampton.

The “Cirque du Septième,” or “Seventh Circus,” starts at 7:30 p.m. and runs to about midnight “or whatever feels right,” said MacDuffie, of Easthampton. For a suggested $5 donation, you can check out an exhibit of work by several area artists, watch an avant-garde puppet show, listen to spoken word performances and catch two Brooklyn-based rock bands, Homebody and Endland, as they do some live recording.

Oh, and you can pick up the new issue of Meat for Tea at the event, which is supported by a grant from the Easthampton Cultural Council.

The “cirques” — MacDuffie says the French word offers a good description of the mix of art and entertainment on tap — have been staged each time a new issue of Meat for Tea has been issued. But this Saturday’s celebration has particular significance in marking the publication’s growth, she notes.

“We’re really happy with how we’ve grown,” said MacDuffie, who left teaching behind and calls the journal pretty much her full-time job these days. “We’re taking submissions from across the country and around the globe now. ... Our plan was always to promote the work of artists and writers from western Massachusetts and beyond, and we’re doing that.”

Labor of love

The journal, a softcover publication that runs between 42 and 50 pages, has been a labor of love for MacDuffie and other supporters over the years. MacDuffie has relied on grants, donations, local sponsors and subscriptions to put each issue out. It’s available though a web site,, and in local book stores, record shops and art galleries.

It had a varying format for the first several issues but has since settled into its current style: a 10-inch-by-10-inch booklet with color art on front and back-and-white text and illustrations inside. The theme is generally slightly off-beat, with dark humor and art that leans to the surrealistic side. Each issue also comes with a separate meat- or tea-themed subtitle, like “Tartare” or “Pomegranate.”

The most recent issue, from December, includes a typically eclectic mix of content: short stories by writers from Australia, Brooklyn and North Carolina, among other locations; poetry and art from several contributors from the United States, including from this region, and one originally from Argentina; and an engaging essay, “top ten,” by John G. Rodwan Jr., that lists the top 10 reasons for making a list of your favorite 10 albums of the year.

One example: No. 4 — self-portraiture: “Lists can become an unadorned autobiography,” Rodwan writes. “A random grocery list reveals something about the shopper who made it. ... A list of what music most moved a person provides an even more intimate, personal picture — a snapshot of the soul.”

MacDuffie notes that Meat for Tea, unlike many literary journals such as The Common at Amherst College, is not affiliated with any academic institution and thus has to seek independent funding. And publishing work from people outside the region doesn’t take away from local contributors, but rather elevates the Valley’s overall artistic profile and visibility, she says.

“I think it keeps the Valley on people’s radar,” she said.

Musical component

“Meat for Tea” also has a musical component, care of Mark Alan Miller, who handles layout for the journal and is MacDuffie’s boyfriend. Miller, a veteran recording engineer who runs Sonelab with fellow engineer Justin Pizzoferrato, has helped organize previous cirques (“Cirque du Reves,” “Cirque du Printemps”) to coincide with each quarterly release of the journal. In the past few years, most of those fetes were held at The Elevens in Northampton and featured appearances by several bands.

“We see music as a pretty vital part of the arts scene,” said Miller, who has recorded myriad groups over the years, from hard rock bands to singer-songwriters; last summer he engineered a new album for the Young@Heart Chorus. He notes that several issues of “Meat for Tea” included a CD with cuts from bands that played at the cirques that celebrated each release of a new journal.

With Sonelab, which opened last year, MacDuffie and Miller say they’ve found a perfect venue for the tri-monthly cirques. Among a number of facilities, including several small recording booths and two separate control rooms, Sonelab has a large main recording room/performance space that can accommodate bands as well as a modest audience. Alongside the studio space is a long hallway and a lounge area with couches and chairs where art can be displayed.

“It’s just a better venue for us, more relaxed than The Elevens,” MacDuffie said. “If people want to listen to the music, they can be in the studio, or if they want to talk, look at the art on display, they can hang out here” in the common space. “Meat for Tea” featured its first in-studio cirque last December.

Miller and Pizzoferrato, who co-own Sonelab but usually record different groups separately, will work together Saturday to record the two bands, Homebody and Endland, as they perform so that the groups will have finished cuts that they can sell via their websites.

MacDuffie sees the “Cirque de Septième” and the other celebrations as a great opportunity for artists from different genres to meet and share ideas; it’s also a place to make local sales of the journal. Most sales are to subscribers, she says, and though neither she not Miller give exact figures, they say the numbers are less than 500 per issue.

“We’d like to get that up into the thousands,” Miller said.

“I see [the journal] as a physical space where emerging artists can be between the covers with well-established artists,” MacDuffie said. “We want to keep building on what we’ve done.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at

“Cirque de Septième” takes place Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Sonelab Recording, in the back of the old Yankee Plastics building at 142 Pleasant St. in Easthampton. Park behind the building near the Manhan Rail Trail. A $5 donation is suggested. The website for “Meat for Tea” is Back issues of the journal are available as PDF downloads for $8.


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