Thursday, April 14, 2016

Remembering The Grolier Poetry Book Shop before 2006

( Left to Right: Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti with the late owner of the Grolier Gordon Carinie)

Remembering The Grolier before 2006

by Richard Dey

The sign “No Law books, No Text Books” was taped to the door, the long couch to the left of the door and beneath the big window stretched invitingly, and above the shelves of books, out of reach and not easy to see, hung the framed black-and-white photographs of poets you found in anthologies of twentieth century poetry. Proprietor Gordon Carinie, by then an old man, was in the shop, standing around. I first went up the two or three high, unlevel steps and into the shop in the fall of 1970 and continued to buy books there for some 35 years. It was the shop everyone at The Harvard Advocate went to, and I was on the Advocate board, eventually as poetry editor.

While Cairnie seemed aloof, Louisa Solano, who took over the shop in 1974, was always friendly and helpful even as she was always busy running the business. Her loyal dog lay somewhere close by, a kind of medic in case she who had epilepsy had a seizure. Louisa replaced the couch with a table for book and magazine displays. You could do nothing but stand and circle slowly the big middle table, and open and sample and close more books and chapbooks of poetry than you could imagine. There was hardly room to turn between the table and the wall shelves, and pull a book down from a shelf. The little bookshop, crammed as a mussel bed, was in its pleasant, redolent way overwhelming.

Louisa carried and sold my first chapbook, Bequia Poems, in 1979. She did the same with my first book, The Bequia Poems, in 1988. At that time, I was publishing what could be called “boat poems” in various journals and magazines including SAIL. In the April 1987 issue, as a main illustrated feature, appeared a dramatic narrative of mine, “The Loss of the Schooner Kestrel.” I gave a copy to Louisa and she passed it on the Andreas Tauber, then the artistic director of The Poets’ Theater. A month later, on May 8, in the Cambridge home of Molly Adams, he produced a staged reading of the poem. 

Just as Louisa was more than a bookseller, the Grolier was more than a bookshop. I went to book signings there, and to readings it sponsored in the common room of nearby Adams House. In my collection of chapbooks is Nightfire by Gail Mazur who on the title page inscribed “To Richard Dey at the Grolier 9/16/87” and signed it. Louisa herself gave creditable introductions to the poets reading. The big store window in those days before the Internet was, with its posters and announcements, a main source of information for upcoming readings in the greater Cambridge area.

Richard Dey
I graduated from  Harvard College in 1973 and after a year living near Porter Square moved out of Cambridge. For years I returned to go to readings and the Out of Town newsstand, and to buy supplies at Bob Slate’s Stationary, and various things at The Coop. For sentimental reasons I continued to eat at the Wursthaus or get a turkey sandwich at Elsie’s for as long as those places lasted. On these forays into Cambridge I parked on or near Plympton Street. While I may have stopped in at the Star Book Store in search of used treasure, it was the Grolier that I passed by first and last on my errands, and often enough went into to buy something that I really couldn’t afford—but could not afford not to have. And Louisa, ready in the rear corner at the cash register, was of course glad to look up and smile and ring up the sale.


Dey graduated from Tabor Academy and, after two years at St. Lawrence University and three in the U.S. Army, from Harvard College in 1973. He has worked as a commercial fisherman in the offshore lobster and swordfish fisheries off New England. As freelance journalist, he has contributed to YachtingSailOffshoreThe Boston Globe, and Harvard Magazine, among other publications. Currently, he is an instructor of maritime history and literature in the SEAmester program of Southhampton College, Long Island University. The father of two boys, he lives on the south shore of Massachusetts and visits Bequia in the West Indies frequently.

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