Friday, June 02, 2006
The Boston Area Poetry Scene: A Plethora of Poets and Poetry
There is rarely a day that goes by that I don’t bump into a fellow poet or writer of my acquaintance. In Somerville, where I live, a poet-couple lives in a house behind me, another lives on the adjacent street, and my landlord, a poet and writer of some local fame lives downstairs. The cafes of Somerville Cambridge and Boston overflow with Bards tapping away on laptops and scribbling in dog-eared notebooks. There are poets of the “academy,” poet/scholars of the street, slam poets, black-clad avant-gardes…you name it. And there is room and a venue for them all.
In Cambridge, at 106 Prospect St, just outside Central Square, is the Out of the Blue Art Gallery. This gallery owned by Cambridge’s own Deborah Priestly and Tom Tipton, hosts two well-known poetry venues. The most noted is “Stone Soup Poets,” that meets every Monday night, and was founded and is hosted by veteran Boston poet Jack Powers, who is assisted by the very capable Chad Parenteau.
“Stone Soup” has been around since 1971, at various venues in Boston and Cambridge. Many of the movers and shakers in the poetry world like Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, Robert Creeley, and others have read and have even been published by “Stone Soup Inc.,” the publishing imprint of the organization.
Deborah Priestly, a well-regarded and frequently published poet in her own right, hosts a poetry venue every Saturday night at the gallery. It is named after her ubiquitous dog, titled “Open Bark.”
But the republic of Cambridge is not limited to the Out of the Blue Gallery for poetry. The Cantab Lounge on Mass. Ave in Central Square, Cambridge hosts a competitive slam poetry night every Wednesday night, and the Lizard Lounge, near the Harvard Law School, has a “Poetry Jam” hosted by Jeff Robinson every Sunday night. Here poets of all stripes read their works accompanied by the music of Robinson’s jazz ensemble.
But poetry thrives not only in the galleries and bars, but in the hushed environs of a church. Jessa Pia and Lee Kidd run a poetry venue at the Harvard Epworth Church, just outside Harvard Square every Thursday night. The poetic couple describe their brainchild as a place,”…where everyone gathers weekly to practice their new scribblings.” Pia and Kidd also encourage musicians to partake in the open mic, and more often than not there is a sing-along with audience and performers.
There are perhaps more staid but no less valuable places for a poet to ply his trade. Harris Gardner, known as the impresario of the poetry scene, is the founder of “Tapestry of Voices,” which consists of reading venues at the Forest Hills Chapel in Jamaica Plain, Borders Books in downtown Boston, and perhaps his crowning achievement the annual Boston National Poetry Festival Marathon held at the main branch of the Boston Public Library during poetry month (April) each year. Over 50 poets, both established and emerging, read over the length of a weekend, as well as the general public at the open mic.
Affa Michael Weaver, a highly acclaimed Afro-American poet and professor at Boston’s Simmons College, runs the Zora Neale Hurston Center that has hosted such poets as: Askia Toure, Alicia Ostriker, and Marcia Douglas, to name a few. Weaver said the center is,” A resource to enhance diversity for Simmons and the surrounding community.”
One of the oldest reading series in the country was founded by Amy Lowell and Robert Frost in 1915. Diana Der- Hovanessian, the current president has hosted poetry readings at the Longfellow House in Cambridge for many years now. Personally I have heard such poets as Donald Hall, and Robert Creeley read from their work, while I sat on the well-manicured grounds of this historical site.
One of the newer but vibrant poetry happenings in the area takes place every Saturday at the Au Bon Pain Café, in Somerville’s Davis Square. A group of poets called the “Bagel Bards,” meet every Saturday, chat, kibbitz, edit an online journal “The Wilderness House Literary Review,” and publish an anthology, thanks to the techno-savvy poet Steve Glines. On any given Saturday poets gather in a sort of “Last Supper,” scene, seated and talking animatedly on either side of a long row of tables.
But we really haven’t covered the waterfront. In the metropolitan area poetry groups, venues, magazines crop, thrive and disappear with a breathless frequency. Any poet, of any persuasion, can find a niche, a place to plant a poem, in this rich lyrical soil.