Sunday, October 30, 2011

Poems for Somerville: Akshay Ahuja brings poetry to the people.

By Doug Holder

It was an odd day at the Au Bon Pain in Davis Square. An October snowstorm was at the cusp of the Boston Area, and for several days before the weather was decidedly winter-like, even before the ghouls of Halloween pounded the mean streets. On this morning I met Somerville writer Akshay Ahuja, to talk about a new literary project he is engaged in.

Ahuja is a new arrival to our burg, and he and his wife put down roots in the Powder House Square section of our city. Ahuja has a varied background. He has an MFA from Emerson College in Boston; he used to work at the prestigious publishing house Houghton Mifflin, and he is currently the production manager for the much lauded literary magazine PLOUGHSHARES based at Emerson College and founded by DeWitt Henry, who I interviewed recently.

Ahuja says he loves Somerville—its diverse community, its writers, the community gardens, and the writing group he is part of.

Ahuja landed an artist fellowship from the Somerville Arts Council for a project he is about to birth in the Paris of New England. It is a chapbook of poetry titled POEMS FOR SOMERVILLE. He conceived it as a free anthology of poetry to read, contribute to and pass on. It includes poems from the public domain as to avoid permission issues, etc…. The list of poets is impressive, including: Sara Teasdale, John Keats, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and A.E. Houseman— to name a few. Included in this booklet are empty pages in which a reader could fill in with their own favorite words, or another writer’s.

Ahuja plans to distribute the free books throughout the city, and hopes they will form a literary virus of sorts—spreading from one reader to another.

Ahuja, early on, was not a lover of poetry. He said, “In school we were taught meter, rhyme—all the mechanical aspects. There was no real discussion of imagery and symbolism.” As he got older Ahuja started reading poetry on his own, and started enjoying it. He made friends little collections of poetry that he copied into school boy composition books.

Ahuja has a populist bent. When he lived in the Washington, D.C. area he noticed the Washington Post had a poetry corner—much like, well… the LYRICAL SOMERVILLE. They used to feature work by the then current Poet Laureate and other folks. He took from this the need to bring poetry to the people.

Ahuja is a man who likes to get the word out—so what followed was this innovative project. His press run is small, but he hopes the message about poetry and the power of the written word will be a large one indeed.

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