Interview with Poet/ State Rep. Denise Provost
with Doug Holder
Denise Provost writes:
"I started writing – mainly, but not exclusively poetry – as a child. I got a full scholarship to Bennington College during my sophomore year of high school, based in large part on a manuscript of poetry. In my senior year, I decided to go to law school, after having decided that I was not suited for a graduate degree in English literature.
I graduated from Bennington in 1971, started law school in 1972, graduated from law school in 1982. I worked as a lawyer for the City of Newton, then was recruited by the City of Somerville, to work for reform mayor Eugene Brune. Working in local government gave me ideas about how government could become more transparent and responsive. In 1993, I ran for Ward Alderman in Ward 5, coming very close against a long-time incumbent.
The incumbent resigned a year and two weeks later, and the Board of Alderman appointed a replacement. I ran against the appointee in 1995, again coming close. After that second defeat, I figured my political career was over. Then, in 1999, the ward 5 incumbent did not run for re-election, and one of the at-large aldermen made the same decision. I ran for the latter seat, and won.
I served on the Board of Aldermen for almost seven years, running for state representative in a special election. I won that election in February, 2006, and have since represented Somerville’s 27th Middlesex District.
As my children got older, I found I was writing more poetry again, and decided that I needed a teacher. I was accepted into Susan Donnelly’s poetry writing workshop in 2010. Since then, I’ve had poetry published in a number of print and on-line journals."
I had the pleasure to interview Provost on my Somerville Community Access TV Show Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.
Doug Holder: Are there any canonical Somerville poets worth mentioning?
Denise Provost: Sam Walter Foss. Foss Park is named after him. I believe he was a poet during the early 20th Century. He wrote some good poetry actually. His poem about Prospect Hill is used every Jan 1st when we go up to Prospect Hill to raise the first flag.
DH: In your statement it mentions your poetry manuscript helped you get into Bennington College. What was the theme?
DP: I wrote about ideas, and observations. At one point I did a series of poems about each one of the colors. I wrote about nature. I wrote about ideas I encountered.
DH: What got you started as a poet?
DP: I liked it. And I also think I started because I was very fond of song. One of the things I like about songs is that they have meter. And usually they have rhyme. Early on thoughts would would come to me in the form of metric rhymes' little bits of lyrics. I would make up new lyrics to different melodies. And at some point these turned into poems.
DH: You are a graduate of Boston University Law School. Why did you not stick with a literary career?
DP: I remember the application for Bennington asked me what centuries did I want to specialize in. I was convinced that I wanted to be a Medievalist. And then I got to college and I started reading other material, and I realized I couldn't spend my life with metaphysical poets of the 15th Century.
DH: Do you think you would make a good poetry teacher?
DP: Possible--maybe even probably. I have worked with young people. I have a good eye and a good ear. And I know I am a good editor. I edited professionally for the New England Journal of Law and Medicine.
DH: Are you familiar with any lawyer/writers?
DP: Well of course Franz Kafka was a lawyer for the German Workers Compensation System. Andrew Marvel is a favorite poet of mine. He was a diplomat and in the British parliament.
DH: Do you write political poetry?
DP: Occasionally. Sometimes I am inspired by the newspaper to write poetry. And sometimes it is rather satirical. I love Calvin Trilling. He writes wonderfully, funny political poems. Even when they are not topical anymore they are fun to read.
DH: Has what you write about now changed from when you were young?
DP: No. Every bit of that WOW! response I had as a kid I still have. If my subject matter has changed it is because my world is much bigger now. I have children now, although I don't write about them that much. I write a lot about things I remember. Like once I was at the gym and saw a woman who reminded me of someone I knew years ago. I decided to write a story about her in the form of a sonnet. Sonnet-writing is a challenge for me. I have to say everything I want to say in 14 lines.
DH: The poem is never finished, right?
DP: As Paul Valery wrote: "The poem is never finished it is abandoned."
DH: David Slavitt--a noted poet, author, translator etc... ran against Tim Toomey, a state legislator, and lost by a landslide. He told me that poets would make good politicians because they have built in shit detectors. Your take?
DP: I think that if you are a self-disciplined poet, and you listen very carefully--you have to have one. It helps you hone in on the essence of things.
Crafty Bob, and his good friend, Mr. Wynn,
woo Foxborough. They make a solemn vow
that the great Pleasure Dome that they’ll put in
won’t turn the town to Vegas, or Macau.
“Bucolic” is the way Foxborough will stay.
No high rise buildings, or parades of cars
will spoil its home town feel, or Patriot ways,
but make the tax base plump; leave life unmarred.
I don’t live there. It is not up to me
to trust these wealthy gentlemen, or not.
I’ll watch Foxborough’s courtship, and I’ll see
if the Deal can be marketed, and bought.
I’m certain that the one per cent must know
what benefits the rest of us, below.
– Denise Provost
Water Chestnut Pull, Mystic River
There was a time when every day in June
I woke anticipating summer’s fields;
picking wild strawberries; my good fortune
then to enjoy that sweet and fragrant yield.
But this June day another harvest brings
out on the weed-choked river, where we glide,
dragging up water chestnuts’ living strings
of leaf, stem, root, and seed-pods, dripping slime,