Sunday, August 14, 2005

This is an article I wrote a few years ago for the 30th Birthday of Stone Soup Poets in Boston.

Stone Soup Poetry's 30th Birthday By Doug Holder

These days a 30 year old woman or man is still, ( to use the vernacular), "wet behind the ears." However, if you are talking about a poetry venue, you have reached a ripe old age. At the end of April, in what T.S. Eliot called, " the cruelest month," Stone Soup Poetry celebrated three decades of open mike poetry readings and book publishing. The co- founder, Jack Powers ( and Peggy Durkee who was not in attendance), presided at the birthday party of this unique organization, held at the IMPROV ASYLUM, in the North End of Boston. Before the festivities began I spoke to Powers, and other long time friends and cronies, who have made the scene over the decades. Jack Powers, who currently runs Stone Soup Poetry in the basement of the MIDDLE EAST restaurant in Cambridge's Central Square, didn't mince words when he described the significance of the event. As always, he preached the gospel of nonconformity and the power of the "word." His nascent idea behind STONE SOUP was to challenge the ordinary, the status quo, and provide a venue where a person could confidently declare themselves a poet, and proudly pronounce to the mandarins, " I've got something else to say." BUDDHA, a local poet and organizer, of expansive verbal and physical presence, has been connected with STONE SOUP since 1975. He was a member of a folk music collective, and started playing at STONE SOUP in the 1970's. This bear of a man became emotional, as he described the seminal setting on Cambridge Street at the foot of Beacon Hill. He described a bohemian style store front, a mixture of a bookstore and gallery, filled with paintings, shelves of poetry books, and torn paperbacks, sold for a song. Evidently, the SOUP was a place to "hang." It held a constant parade of workshops, readings, discussions, and folk music performances. Buddha, misty eyed, remembered it as, " A real hang out, a genuine BEAT crowd." I asked Jack Powers what was the very first Stone Soup Poetry session was like. Powers told me the original Stone Soup was part of the BEACON HILL FREE SCHOOL, which he founded in 1970. The first setting was at a Cambridge St. store front. Jack lived on the floor above. The first reading consisted of a circle of 14 to 16 poets, of all backgrounds, be it race, gender, or economic status. Powers recalled, during the first years of STONE SOUP, " All these people came down to help and share. The poets... John Weiners ran workshops, Joe Dunn helped out, Carol Weston, so many people sharing, giving of themselves, it was beautiful." Over the years there have been many memories. I asked Powers the impossible question, " Which of them was the most memorable" The founder did not struggle with his reply. He spoke about the first visit from his literary mentor and founder of CITY LIGHTS Books in San Francisco, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Powers was highly influenced by the Ferlinghetti's collection, CONEY ISLAND OF THE MIND: " Imagine how I felt, when back in 1975, my hero is sleeping in my own place, and reading for the STONE SOUP POETS." Another thing close to this poet's heart was his sponsoring of the Mental Patients Liberation Front : " I just gave them a key to the place on Wednesday nights.. It was a support, and activist group. I freely gave to people who needed a voice." Like any Stone Soup event the birthday reading was peopled with an eclectic mix of poets. Powers lead off with two powerful pieces, one that unapologetically railed against the failings of God, the other bemoaning the fate of a homeless man of his acquaintance. Poet, Carol Weston read a number of beautifully executed poems that touched on the journey through the shoals of an often angst ridden existence. Ian Thal, the secretary for STONE SOUP POETRY, wore his trademark Joker's hat, and voiced a tribute to Jack Powers, by the poet Walter Howard. It heralded Jack as one of "...God's holy fools...his hands reach to the stars..." After JEWISH ADVOCATE reporter Susie Davidson piped in with a poignant piece, a father/daughter team consisting of 16 year old Kitty Glines and her dad added a wholesome familial touch. A STONE SOUP regular Joanna Nealon, proved that even though she is blind, she can see clearly. She dramatically read a hilarious piece, THE PLIGHT OF THE POET. A demure and cultured presence, she had the audiences in stitches of laughter as she put to good poetic use, a commonly used four letter word. Marc Widershien, an editor for the IBBETSON STREET PRESS and THE NEW RENAISSANCE, did justice to Power's poetry, with a skillful rendition of his work. The featured poet was John Weiners. Weiners, is an old friend of Power's and one of the original Boston Beat poets. Allen Ginsberg once referred to him as, "the most lyrical of the Beat poets." He goes way back to the Beacon Hill Free School days, and is firmly rooted with the history of this venue. Weiners is the author of many poetry books, most notably his signature collection, THE HOTEL WENTLEY POEMS. If central casting put out a call for a Beat poet, Weiners would fit the bill. He is a shambling man in his mid 60's, with requisite beard and a long ponytail. He leafed through the yellowing pages of his manuscript and came up with gems. One poem that brought tears to the eyes of an emotional Powers was "PREFACE FROM TRANSMUTATIONS" (1959). This poem celebrates the simple life in Boston in the 50's and early 60's. Weiners lamented, " Oh, for a room with the rent paid." He whispered to the audience about the joys of living on Arlington street in the Back Bay, and writing poems about the Boston Common, before the burdens of time and age took their pound of flesh. I asked Jack Powers what he sees in the future for STONE SOUP. He told me that money is always needed, and that eventually he will have to find a younger person to take over. Poet, Carol Weston summed up the past and hopefully the future of STONE SOUP, " STONE SOUP has saved many by releasing the voice within." Hopefully many more will be saved in years to come

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