Tuesday, December 26, 2017

John Harrison and Kim Nagy: “Dead in Good Company”

John Harrison and Kim Nagy: “Dead in Good Company”

Dead In Good Company is a compelling collection  of essays, poems and wildlife photographs of Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Sweet Auburn, as it is affectionately known, is America's first garden cemetery.

An amazing group of authors have come together to celebrate this unique resource - including Harvard Law professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz; historical novelist William Martin; former Mayor of Boston and Ambassador to the Vatican, Ray Flynn; Boston author and television icon, Hank Phillippi Ryan; Pulitzer Prize winner, Megan Marshall; mystery/true-crime author Kate Flora; mystery author Katherine Hall Page; medical thriller author Gary Goshgarian (Braver); broadcasting legend Upton Bell; world renowned bird guide author and artist David Sibley; drama critic, author and host of the Theatre World Awards, Peter Filichia; screen writer, author Chris Keane; Mass Audubon's Wayne Petersen; Talkin' Birds radio host, Ray Brown; author, naturalist Peter Alden; founder of Project Coyote, Camilla Fox; Director of the World Bird Sanctuary, Jeff Meshach; senior scientist for wildlife at the Humane Society of the United States, John Hadidian; historian Dee Morris; and sports writer and commentator, Dan Shaughnessy.

Interview with Doug Holder

I had the pleasure to speak to Nagy and Harrison on my Somerville Media TV show  "Poet to Poet Writer to Writer."

DH: The founding of Mt. Auburn cemetery in Cambridge, Ma. spawned a new movement—am I correct?

JH: It was the first garden cemetery in the country. Before that it was known as Sweet Auburn. It was a place people could stroll and enjoy. When the garden cemetery became a reality it was not only a place to commune with the dead, but a place to enjoy life and nature. It was designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted—the same man who designed central Park in NYC. If you go there and walk around it can be easy to forget it is a cemetery. If you do what Kim Nagy and I do- which is to photograph wildlife, then it is even easier to forget.

DH: I know you photograph wildlife but do ever feel the presence of the people who were buried there?

JH: Well in the sense that the many of the folks who were buried there are very well-known—famous people are buried there. When I would pass their graves it made me think about them. In our first essay in the collection by William Martin—the historical novelist—it deals with the brother of John Wilkes Booth –Edwin Booth—who is buried there. In the cemetery you could come across the graves of Isabella  Stewart Gardner, Buckminster Fuller—to name a few.

DH: Kim-- tell me what you think is behind the concept of Mt. Auburn Cemetery?

KN: First off when they created Mt. Auburn they wanted to change the notion of death. They wanted to be about the circle of life. Rebirth, transformation and the circle of life.

DH: There are a lot of interesting essays in the anthology by the likes of Alan Dershowitz, sports writer Dan Shaughnessy, and many others. I was particularly interested in the Henry Cabot Lodge piece by former Boston mayor Ray Flynn. Flynn revealed that in the end the patrician Lodge was an ally of the “ Rascal King,”( Mayor Curley) who rests in Mt. Auburn.

JH: When I went to see Ray Flynn—well--we became friends. Flynn told me that he had a story about Curley and Lodge that no one knew about, and that became the subject of the essay. In the end Lodge did speak well of Curley.

DH: There is a great picture of a Great Horned Owl proudly exhibiting his headless prey.

KN: Yes that picture was by Jim Sorrento. To get a shot of a predator with his prey—well-that is a very big deal for the photographer. Yes—the picture is a bit gruesome. But—after all-we are all carnivores—right?

DH: You have said the owls and owlets of Mt. Auburn helped you get by a particularly trying time of your life.

KN: Wildlife and nature helped me rebuild myself during a very challenging time when I became a reluctant caregiver, and lost my executive job. I went to the cemetery because I now had time on my hands. The owls helped me establish who I used to be. When you photograph wildlife you have to focus. And when you focus everything else falls away. I felt very close to them...it was a magical experience.

DH: What fascinates you about owls?

KN: A lot of people associate owls with death. They like coniferous trees and old growth trees, and they happen to be in cemeteries. I remember I was in Guatemala . I rented a horse and climbed up a volcano. I felt sorry for the struggling horse so I walked him. When we reached the top of the volcano—there was a store—and the owner identified my “spiritual” animal  as the “owl.”

DH: I now you had a number of poets in the anthology including Wendy Drexler. How did you select the poets?

KN: We were referred to the poets by other writers. We had a 9th grade poet who wrote a poem about Red Tail Hawks. Poet Mary Pinard also had a piece in the anthology.

DH: John—you had a big study of coyotes in the book.

JH: Yeah—we followed Big Caeser and his mate in 2008. We followed the family and their 8 pups for a year. To have this access was unbelievable. For that matter Mt. Auburn Cemetery is unbelievable!

No comments:

Post a Comment