Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Boston Globe: Jack Powers founder of Stone Soup Poets-- Obit.

(Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff/File 1987)

Jack Powers, 73; helped poets bring verses to life

Jack Powers, who grew up in and near projects in Roxbury, founded Stone Soup nearly 40 years ago.

By Bryan Marquard
Globe Staff / October 16, 2010

Poems were more than just words on a page for Jack Powers, who believed that verse needed to be freed from the confines of musty books and the stuffy halls of academia.
Mr. Powers, who died Thursday in the North End, founded Stone Soup nearly 40 years ago. Young and old, beginners and accomplished writers, the ever-changing collection of Stone Soup poets met every Monday night to recite in a series of venues before an attentive audience that was not above voicing its opinion. The readings gained a national profile as he persuaded poets such as Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, and Robert Bly to participate.

The performances, Mr. Powers insisted, were part of the poetry.

“You translate yourself when you speak a poem,’’ Mr. Powers told the Globe in 1992

“I think the most important thing for a writer to recognize is that this on the page is one thing. The delivery of the same is a translation. There are a lot of nuances, and lots of times I’ll change words. I’ve never read a poem the same way twice.’’

An activist who gave away everything from the coats he wore to uncounted hours helping the poor, he was a poet and publisher, a teacher and organizer, a man whose great height still seemed too small to contain his frenetic energy.

A series of strokes over the past several years slowed Mr. Powers, then silenced his voice and constrained his mind. He had lived in the North End for many years and was 73 when he died in the North End Rehabilitation and Nursing Center of complications of dementia.

“Boston is full of elite universities and institutions, often very exclusive, where if you don’t have an academic pedigree you’re out of the scene,’’ said Doug Holder, a poet and teacher who at one point worked with Mr. Powers on the Stone Soup readings and founded Ibbetson Street Press. “What Jack did was bring poetry to the people. He published books and had a venue where all kinds of people came through. He opened it up in Boston, which was old and stodgy until Jack brought a populist flavor, a new flowering of poetry.’’

Years before poetry slams made open mike nights fashionable, Mr. Powers insisted that poetry should be an event, something to add to each week’s calendar.

“He really did devote his life to keeping poetry as part of the public discourse, and he did it with great verve and enthusiasm,’’ said poet Gail Mazur of Cambridge. “He wanted to gather everyone into the performance of poetry. In that way, he was a little ahead of his time.’’

The oldest of six children, Mr. Powers grew up in and around housing projects in Roxbury and graduated from Cathedral High School in the South End. A semester studying chemical engineering at Northeastern University was enough to show him his path lay elsewhere.

He traveled to California, spent time in San Francisco, and returned to New England to write about sports for a New Hampshire newspaper. Then he came home to Boston, where he worked in a bookstore and launched a life of social activism.

At various points during the late 1960s and ’70s, Mr. Powers founded a free school on Beacon Hill and started free suppers for the elderly in the same neighborhood. He helped launch free concerts on Boston Common and taught remedial reading at the Columbia Point housing project, where he also organized a food co-op.

“I’m very solid on volunteerism,’’ he told the Globe in 1987, “because the extraordinary weight of problems that visits the modern industrial society can’t be met with dollars alone.’’

Eric H. Sorgman of Randolph, a nephew who acted as guardian for Mr. Powers, said his uncle was known among his relatives for, among other things, donating his coats or gloves to those who were cold or in need.

“He was a philanthropist in the truest sense,’’ Sorgman said. “He didn’t have anything, really, but what he did have, he gave away, and he didn’t want praise or recognition. He felt good about helping other people.’’

Chief among those he helped were other poets. Some wandered into Stone Soup readings at places such as TT the Bear’s and Out of the Blue gallery, its previous and current homes in Cambridge. Others he found at home.

“He taught me about life and how to treat people,’’ said his son Andreas of Boston. “He inspired me to create and was a big influence on my writing. I would always run my writing by him, and he would write things for me. We would write back and forth.’’

Sarah Jensen, a Boston poet who began reading at Stone Soup nearly 20 years ago, said Mr. Powers made the gatherings “a welcoming place.’’

“No matter what level of poetry you were writing at, it was a comfortable place where you could have your moment on stage and be just as welcome as anyone else,’’ she said. “And he would tell stories about meeting and being friends with Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg. It was a passing down of his experience to the newer poets, a passing down of history.’’

In addition to his son Andreas and nephew Eric, Mr. Powers leaves his wife, Tamara Oraschewsky of Boston; another son, John Kolya of Boston; two sisters, Cecelia Sorgman and Maureen Daniels, both of Quincy; and two brothers, Colin of Carver and Michael of Florida.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Oct. 24 in the International Community Church in Allston.

On Monday, Stone Soup will award its second annual poetry prize, named for Mr. Powers. A week later, on Oct. 25 at 8 p.m., the regular Monday gathering at Out of the Blue will be a memorial reading honoring Mr. Powers, who estimated that he stood up thousands of times to introduce poets. The beauty, he said, emerged from the unpredictable mix.

“Our readings are open,’’ he told the Globe in 1993. “A nightingale may come in and sing the most beautiful song, or a bat could fly in and scare everyone. You take some chances, but our audience is ready to listen.’’

Bryan Marquard can be reached at


Oh, what a loss...a very great loss. I met Jack in the mid-90s. I don't know where he'd heard of me, but he called me to invite me to read for him at the Cantab, I believe it was called, in Central Square. He introduced me, and gave me about 20 minutes. Weeks later, he saw me on the street, recognized me, and said he wanted me to read for him once more. Alas, we never got in touch with each other again, and that I much regret. To me he seemed an unassuming guy who got things done---he promoted poetry in the area. He left a positive impression on me, certainly, for he was always willing to give established poets, fledgling poets, would-be poets, and diverse and variegated wordslingers and wordsmiths an opportunity to read from their work at his venue. He shall be missed.

Tino Villanueva

So passes a literary giant!! Jack Powers was one -of-a-kind spirit; a force of nature
to whom many of us owe our beginnings in the poetry world. Many of us would not be where we are today if it weren't for Jack's encouragement. In his own way, he achieved greatness but never actively sought it; yet recognition found him. It is amazing how much he accomplished living on a shoestring and a prayer. He was not perfect, but, according to some stories, many saints lacked perfection in their lives. In his way, Jack was the patron of the small press and numerous poets, not of the Academy. He was, despite himself, larger than life. Now he is legend as he joins those who made their literary mark over the generations. As a poet, he was spiritual , yet earthy; erudite , yet simple; profound, yet plain-spoken. He was also prolific in his out put. He had his issues; so do most of us. What artist doesn't have issues?
Jack has left us; however, I suspect he will continue with us in spirit. G-d rest him; G-d Bless!
Harris Gardner

.....I recall Jack back in the '70's or was it the '80's when he would swing by the Annual Greek Festival sponsored by the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church on Park Drive in the Fenway with his young son perched on his cld never mistake Jack with that unruly shock of black hair.....I also remember him from the time that the Stone Soup Gallery was in full swing just around the corner from MGH on Cambridge Street altho regretfully, I never attended any sessions....& I further remember him telling me about the free suppers that he organized at the Old West Church on Cambridge Street for the poor & his constant attempts to scrounge food around town for them.....& about him telling me about trying to get a job with the City to work on their Annual Arts Festival or Arts in the Park (or something like that).....I believe he did work for the City on some artistic endeavors, back then.

........I wonder how many young & not so young poets, poor & not so poor, were inspired, encouraged & supported by him over the years........I wld not be surprised if they number well into the hundreds & more... ....he was an icon in certain literary circles in Boston.....he will NEVER be replaced, he was unique among men, in so many ways.....

.......helen cox, 11 Park Drive, Fenway section of Boston.........

There was no sexism, no racism, no ageism at Stone Soup- and no favoritism. I remember when Chronicle visited T.T.'s, giving Jack some long-overdue and too-rare major media publicity. Who did he send up to read as scheduled? The most outrageous and least prime-time friendly poet of all, Lee Litif. Lee was scheduled to be #2, and Jack was not to take the scheduled spot away from anyone. Fair and balanced? That was Jack Powers. That's why he was the first to let the Slam in to his venue before deciding that competition was not right for Stone Soup. Jack was the patriot of all poets.

--- Susie Davidson


  1. He forever gave of himself to his fellow man and woman. Jack's spirit of encouraging others was a revival experience in of itself. I consider myself fortunate for having been "reverenced" by thee. Thank you 'Jackie' for your PEACE & shall be missed dear ~ Bridget

  2. Joseph Baltar2:12 PM

    I saw the best minds of my generation starving with madness and Jack was not one of them, well maybe just a dight.I met Jack in 1971 when he was running the Beacon Hill Free School. He allowed me to teach a course on Massachusetts Prisons and create a Film Festival Series on theHuman Potential Movement.Anecdotal #2 I was at his apartment on Joy street one day waxing about my love for Rilke. As I was about to leave he grabbed a xeroxed photo a friend had sent him showing her visiting Rilke's grave and gave me the special gift he had received from her.
    Jack Powers was a poster child on how to love unconditionally .
    I will leave you with the Ram Dass quote that"you are only as high as the people you hang out with".