Saturday, October 31, 2009
Poet Valerie Lawson: A New Home "Off the Coast"
Interview by Doug Holder
Valerie Lawson, has the healthy ruddy complexion of a woman who spends a good bit of her time outdoors. This makes sense since she recently moved to the hinterlands of Maine and is editing a magazine "Off the Coast." She has been a mainstay in the Boston poetry scene for years, most notably in the poetry slam scene popularized by her partner Michael Brown. Both Lawson and Brown have taken over "Off the Coast," a well-respected New England journal from the founder, and have made their own unique imprint on it. Lawson was the slam master of the Bridgewater Poetry Slam at the Daily Grind Coffeehouse, has traveled to Europe to perform poetry and help host the Swedish Slam Nationals in 2002. Lawson was a participant in Optimal Avenues, a mixed-media cultural exchange between Massachusetts and Ireland. Her recent collection of poems is "Dog Watch," a book of poems that was released in 2007. I talked with her on my Somerville Community Access TV show: "Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer."
Doug Holder: You and Michael Brown took over the helm of "Off the Coast" magazine in Maine. What's the back-story to this?
Valerie Lawson: Off the Coast magazine began about 15 years ago. It was an extension of the Live Poet's Society in Maine. It was originally an anthology for the society. It later became a triennial publication. The previous owner's wife got ill with cancer, so he decided to let go of the magazine to take care of her. We were happy that the magazine had a good reputation when we took it over. We had pretty good bios that indicated we could do this. So George, the owne,r handed it over to us. We inherited a list of subscribers but no money.
So far for the first two issues we carried the magazine. This year we are in production for our 4th issue. We are short a couple hundred dollars to put this out.
DH: You guys moved from Massachusetts to Maine. Was that because of the magazine?
VL: Well no. Michael was teaching at Mt. Ida College. They closed the program he ran there. It was the Communications program. So we tossed around ideas about what we wanted to do with our lives. At one point we were looking at buying a small piece of property in Maine as an investment. It was to be a place to retire. But when the closing of the program forced the issue, Maine seemed like a cheaper place to live. We started to look at property up there and off we went. It is a six-hour drive to Somerville.
DH: You were, and still are I believe involved in the SLAM poetry scene. I think you cut your teeth in the Cantab Lounge. Can you talk a bit about your involvement? What is SLAM poetry for the uninformed?
VL: It is a poetry reading that is judged Olympic style on a 1 to 10 scale. It is really fun. It is a competition. It is basically a poetry show.
I started out with the South Shore Poets that was a typical, quiet, library series. I loved poetry. I was going to the library and I liked the series. One time at the Fuller Museum in Brockton they were putting on a poetry slam. I thought: "WOW,” this just brought the level up. It was so much fun. People in the audience were engaged and excited. I said: “I want to do that." I met Michael there.
DH: You were involved were involved with the Doc. Brown Traveling Poetry Show, no?
VL: Yes. At the old Jimmy Tingle Theatre in Davis Square.
DH: Your poem "Evening" in your book "Dog Watch" is a beautifully written piece about the beach. I can only describe it as great tidal drama? Are you drawn to the sea?
VL: Oh yeah. I am a water person. I have to be near water. We can see the bay where we live. We used to live on Cape Cod in Buzzard's Bay, and across from a pond in Plymouth.
DH: Has the move to the isolation of Maine helped or hindered you?
VL: Both. It's tough to be away from the Boston poetry community. I miss the frequent conversations. But I am getting a lot of reading done. I have more time to write.
Boats tethered in their slips,
day captains maneuver trailers—
they've waited years for the chance of a mooring.
Sandpipers and plovers fuss over minnows
and sand fleas, chase receding waves,
skitter from the next wave rolling in.
Sea lavender pokes briny blossoms
above tidal pools. The used tissue of sea lettuce
litters the sand, catches in salt marsh grass.
Terns dive, miss fish, hover
over another target.
A horseshoe crab, empty of life but
shell complete down to spiky telson
marks high tide. The long flight bone
of a gull weathers smooth nearby.
Neither bird call nor blue blood matter.
It always come to this, tossed on the edge,
still waiting for something
as the sun edges below the horizon again.