Monday, August 01, 2011
Somerville, Mass. Poet Harris Gardner: Bringing his poetic passion to the Paris of New England
By Doug Holder
Somerville poet Harris Gardner is many things. This fairly recent transplant to our town is a substitute teacher at Somerville High, a real estate broker, and founder of the much lauded poetry organization “Tapestry of Voices” that has put on the Boston National Poetry Festival for the last decade at the Boston Public Library in Copley Square.
Many of Gardner’s students at Somerville High refer to him as Einstein because of his curly halo of gray curls, and he is a genius in his own way. Since 1999 he has created a literary community of readings that span from the soon to be defunct Borders Books in downtown Boston, to the Liberty Hotel, the former home of the infamous Charles Street Prison. Currently he and Somerville poet/publisher Gloria Mindock host a poetry series that meets every third Tuesday of each month at the Arts Armory on Highland Ave. ( 6:30 PM) in our burg. The readers of the series has included many Somerville poets like Lloyd Schwartz, Ifeanyi Menkiti, yours truly, and others.
Gardner who has lived on Beacon Hill for many years has not only organized poetry readings but he is a well-published poet with credits in the Harvard Review, Midstream, Ibbetson Street, Aurorean and many others. He has a number of collections under his belt, the most recent: “Among Us” published by Somerville’s Cervena Barva Press.
I asked Gardner what he thinks about the lack of interest of the powers-that-be about creating a Poet Laureate in Somerville. Gardner opined: “I think Somerville is slow to pick up on what 23 cities in Massachusetts have already. I was on the Committee for the Poet Laureate in Boston that selected Sam Cornish, as well as working with the city of Cambridge to establish their Populist Poet. This is a very worthwhile… to bad the city can’t realize it.”
Gardner, like me, bemoans the fact that a number of independent bookstores have closed in our city—most notably McIntyre and Moore Used Books—a long time icon in Davis Square. Gardner believes that Porter Square Books is a great store, but it is really in Cambridge, and they don’t sell used books. “I really think we could use a bookstore in Somerville that sells new as well as used books”, he said.
Gardner is also a co-founder of Somerville’s Bagel Bards, a literary group that meets every Saturday at 9A.M. at the Au Bon pain in Davis Square. I asked him if he writes when he is at the group. Gardner smiled: “I wrote a poem while coming up from the Davis Square subway. I write everywhere. If I did write in a café regularly I think Bloc 11 in Union Square would have the right atmosphere.” I pointed out that Sherman Café in Union square was equally as good a writing spot—he took notes.
Gardner has recently been appointed the Poetry Editor of Somerville’s Ibbetson Street Press, and in that capacity he has attracted such noted poets as Diana der Hovanessian, Richard Hoffman, X.J. Kennedy, Maxine Kumin and others. So even though Gardner has been in the Paris of New England a short while; he has already accomplished more than some have in a lifetime in our city—welcome aboard!
This stoned cat puffs fragile rings
in my face. He’s pretty pushy, he is.
Asks imperiously, “ Who are you?”
You better believe that stops me on the spot !
Who am I? Starts right off with the tough question.
Am I in jeopardy if I reply? I stall to buy a number.
He starts to do a fade, already bored.
He blinks, yawns, ready for a snooze.
I volley it right back, barely clearing the net.
Who are you to ask who am I?
What’s next, “where are you?”
That should be my question.
Only his face hovers, can’t see the strings;
the rest is buried in a billow
of deconstructing rings.
Aging memories bruise like pinched fruit.
“Who are you?” Seems simple enough;
however, it’s complicated.
Who will I be when I remember?
If I could answer that riddle,
It would prove my genius,
like solving the sphinx..
Whose family lives under my roof?
What is my proof?
Who am I, a part of your dream?
When I pinch you awake, I fear
that I, a wraith, shall simply disappear.