Friday, April 03, 2015

Newton Free Library Poetry Series April 14 7PM Hoffman, Feldman, Kennedy

(Click on picture to enlarge)

There Will Be Time at 100 Years: T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by Michael T. Steffen


There Will Be Time at 100 Years:
T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by Michael T. Steffen

The tuning of the ear for poetry changes so much in the course of 100 years from poet to poet individually as well as for a collective readership. Indeed, within only a few years of first publishing
The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock in the June 1915 issue of Poetry magazine, T. S. Eliot was on the verge of processing the crux of his secular experience, upon the threshold of writing The Waste Land and joining a more rarified coterie of appreciation—becoming seriously challenging for readers. He was making moral terminology blare, scrivening names for their tonal rather than referential significations, forging nature and objects into symbol, codified, as in this passage from “Gerontion”:

In depraved May, dogwood and chestnut, flowering judas,
To be eaten, to be divided, to be drunk
Among whispers; by Mr. Silvero
With caressing hands, at Limoges
Who walked all night in the next room;
By Hakagawa, bowing among the Titians;
By Madame de Tornquist, in the dark room
Shifting the candles…

It is still important to know there was little innocence creeping toward World War II. Yet for readers of poetry who want lines they can fathom and appreciate, the passage from Prufrock beginning with “The yellow fog that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes” will light up curiosity and recognition in most attentive readers being enchanted to the vision of a feline anima in the quiet gliding movements of wisps of fog:

The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

It is a durable passage, so long as there are cats that behave in the character of cats and fog in the world for readers to have something to make the lines and its images relevant, and brilliant in the metaphor of their superposition.

Inspired by the title of Kipling’s “The Love Song of Har Dyal,” Eliot called his poem a love song. It proves a very peculiar love song at that, I thought upon first discovering Prufrock, at 21 going on 67.
At that still mostly world-protected age, the sour ingredients of life recorded in the poem had not been experienced very much. I hadn’t had that close of an encounter with “a patient etherised upon a table,” “half deserted streets,” “yellow fog” or “yellow smoke.” I hadn’t come to the intellectual exasperation and rage to out-Herod Ecclesiastes with “time to murder and create”—(the expression of a generation’s bitterness with the institutional politics making decisions for the trench warfare killings in France).
I was just then only becoming aware of the “bald spot in the middle of my hair.” I had a slight, maybe somewhat nervous laugh for Prufrock’s loneliness, the narrow streets he walked, his caution at eating a peach and delicacy to call it a peach.

With that peach, and other images in his early poetry, was Eliot irresponsibly making risky suggestions to his innocent reader? Or have art and literature been permitted more license in their depictions of the serpent whispering to Eve in the garden? Is truth to outweigh grace? Going back at least to Chaucer, one of the distinctions of poets writing in English has been their failure to idealize or chastise their subjects too much. In his essay on Shakespeare’s revenge tragedy, Eliot cautioned us against mistaking identities between Hamlet the sympathetic character and Hamlet the play of his world of intrigues and miscarried acts, let alone mistaking the character for the dramatist. Prufrock descends via Browning in
a tradition of dramatic poetry whose readers should understand the distance between character and author, between mirror and gavel.

My early reading, as it is said of our hearing sometimes, was selective, according to my young optimism for a good and pleasurable world. In spite of the decadence and anxiety that imbue Prufrock, the poem evokes a sort of euphoria in its imagery, in a music of formal rhythms and resonant rimes. Holding onto the good, letting the bad sift through, or downplaying it (even Prufrock’s weariness with his pleasures and comforts), the poem, reading it over, kept swaying me with its “evening spread out against the sky,” “our visit,” “the women come and go” and “Michelangelo,” his “collar mounting firmly to the chin,” his “necktie rich and modest,” and, promising sensuality, “arms that are braceleted and white and bare” and again “Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.” I hadn’t come to historical criticism yet, to think that Eliot wrote these lines during the “war to end all wars,” when the word “arms” connoted with undertones of dissonance. (Nor would this be the first time I’d encounter the association between Venus and Mars.)

I was lulled by how “the afternoon, the evening sleeps so peacefully!”—not understanding that exclamation mark, that the reason Prufrock found himself walking those argumentative streets through the night till dawn was because he’d been napping earlier in the day. Yet I went on relishing in the “tea and cakes and ices,” “the cups, the marmalade, the tea … novels … teacups,” the “sprinkled streets,” the “skirts that trail along the floor,” and “mermaids singing…riding seaward on the waves, Combing the white hair of the waves blown back…”

While Prufrock was amusing and genuine in his intellectual dilemma, Eliot who channeled the genius
of the poem’s language, suggesting a considerable literary culture, impressed me. I was getting how much a poet could mean to his culture and what authority that gave him. You’d have to be afraid of her before you could get cheeky enough to ask, Who’s afraid of Virginia Wolf ?—with help from the popular song for the Disney cartoon. The great writers and intellectuals of that age were awarded a dignity, even with a little disdain, that is difficult by our standards to comprehend. History with the European wars had heroes and authority in the making. My parents’ generation was shaken by the Civil Rights movement, which for the West challenged and softened, in some cases altogether blurred or erased, relationships of authority, not only between white and black and men and women, but also between parents and children, teachers and students, guides and hikers, writers and readers.

No more than seven hundred years ago Dante wrote the lines recording a conversation which took place in the other world—imagined, spiritual, instructive, motivational—between himself and the spirit of Guido da Montefeltro. Guido, Wikipedia tells us,

was condemned to the eighth circle of Hell for providing counsel to Pope Boniface VIII,
who wished to use Guido’s advice for a nefarious undertaking. This encounter follows
Dante’s meeting with Ulysses, who himself is also condemned to the circle of the Fraudulent.

Just six hundred years later, six lines from Dante spoken by Guido (da Montefeltro) appeared as the epigraph of Prufrock, with its authority lending Eliot’s new poem consideration, even respect. The passage may have also suggested an awareness by Eliot of the moral risks involved in writing drama and fiction.

In time Prufrock would gain a wider popularity than The Waste Land—a more mature, more meaningful poem. Just because it’s popular, doesn’t make a poem great. Because of my exposure to it, and because it was very catchy, the jingle from an ad run for Libby’s canned fruit will be somewhere on my mind probably for the rest of my life: When it says Libby’s Libby’s Libby’s on the label label label, you will like it like it like it on your table table table… Repetition and pleasure find homes in our inner-ear, making their way to residency in memory. Music alone, with no immediate semantic definition, is, many say, the most sublime of the arts.

Rime and meter ideally help make poems memorable. There are other mnemonic devices, such as the alphabet, our primary encounter with consciously signified language. Many poets have used the A B C motif to organize poems. Robert Pinsky wrote what was to become also a quite popular poem titled “ABC” of twenty-six words, each beginning with a letter of the alphabet and worked in sequence:

Any body can die, evidently. Few
Go happily, irradiating joy,
Knowledge, love…

Libby’s labels and tables is not bad in the way of prosody for poetry, playing to our love for liquid consonance and rime, entertaining tongue and ear. The jingle’s triadic repetitions also help drum it
into our minds. I’ll skip the critique of advertising and its aim on our impulses, and just point out that the epigraph from Dante and Eliot’s text voicing the inner thoughts of his fictional persona are, though much more complex, similarly sonorous and pleasurable:

S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
a persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
questa fiamma staria senza più scosse.
Ma perciò che giammai di questo fondo
non tornò alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.

Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
The sibilants in the quote from Dante imitate Guido’s whisper, as he is preparing to confide a guarded, innermost secret, that of the ruin of his converted life and salvation. Eliot’s lines comically skim a like topic. And a like topic inspires the widely remembered lines of another immensely popular poem from
the 20th century, Allen Ginsberg’s Howl :

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving
hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for
an angry fix…
Read in proximity to the lines from Dante and the couplet by Eliot, the lines by Ginsberg are shockingly direct. Part of the impact of the poetry of Ginsberg’s time is that they write “destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked…looking for an angry fix,” whereas the sensibilities for poetry in Eliot’s time would have him write about “tea and cakes and ices.” Then again, where the données of Yeats’s social climate would have him speak of a rose dying on a cross, Eliot would be so bold in the third line of Prufrock to mention “a patient etherised upon a table,” shocking in itself for the time.

Back to the epigraph for Prufrock. It is noteworthy that, by his choice of those six lines from the Dante passage, Eliot’s interest is less in the events of Guido’s undoing than in his prefatory deliberations about relating the story. If what Guido has heard is true, that what is said in Hell stays in Hell, the story can never return to the living. Guido hasn’t thought about this enough to realize that part of being in Hell
is that there is no such reliable authority as truth (il vero) in that region of torments and, therefore, he should doubt what he has heard. It makes a case for the parenthetical placement of his statement—s’i’odo il vero, if what I’ve heard is true—in the line by Dante. It is syntactically spotlighted, noticeable.

Most often, that a story has no chance of being considered is a cause for people, direly for poets, to give up on taking the pains to make an expression at all. These silences build up in a collective reservoir, ever being replenished, of what we call the ineffable, the things that are there but that we can’t say, are under some enchantment from saying. Finding out how to skim from that reservoir and awake the reader can serve as a good inspiration for poets when their joys and pains, loves and losses go silent for a day or so.

Guido, however, a gossip, liar and an instigator, would rather that the story of his betrayal not mean anything, stay secure in the promise of Hell’s silence, the condition which especially allows him to confide in Dante. A polar opposite to the poet and his ambition for the renown of his lines (So long as men can breathe or eyes can see), or at least for contemporary appreciation, Guido’s bitter relish in telling his story is that his words will not live. One keen pleasure for countless readers of the passage over the last seven centuries lies in the irony that, in spite of Guido’s certainty that his story will not get around to spread his infamy, the account in fact has wound up before all of our eyes to read again, memorably expressed in one of the most widely read and carefully considered literary works ever produced!

Closely paralleling its epigraph, again and again the Prufrock text protests at the obstacles, impossibility, even futility, of significant expression:

Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask, ‘What is it?’…

Do I dare
Disturb the universe?...

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows?...

(It seemed important to Ginsberg to witness “the best minds of my generation…dragging themselves through the…streets at dawn,” a very different portrait of bachelor loneliness than that given by Eliot.)

Would it have been worth while…
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it towards some overwhelming question,
To say, ‘I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all’—
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say: ‘That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it at all’…

It is impossible to say just what I mean!...

Add to these the famous student composition lines,

In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse…

and Prufrock’s pathetic (truly with pathos) doubt about the destiny of the inspiration he has happened to be audience to,

I have heard the mermaids singing each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me…

That’s a good deal, 22 of the poem’s 131 lines, just less than a fifth, given to or echoing the theme announced by the epigraph from Dante, justifying Eliot’s use of it as a rather direct thematic reference. This becomes especially clear in contrast to the more tangential, generally allusive bearing of the lines from Virgil’s Aeneid, with the boys questioning the Sybil in her cage at Cumae, used to introduce
The Waste Land.

It is clearer in this light that Eliot’s techniques are somewhat obvious (for Eliot) in his early masterpiece. Prufrock is by no means a simple poem. Ezra Pound was astonished, by the evidence of its lines, at how Eliot had been able to “train and modernize himself” apparently on his own.

For a popular poem it is somewhat long, running just over Poe’s definition of 100 lines for an ideal read of one sitting. Yet because of its complexity, the irony destabilizing or blurring Prufrock’s genuine frustration and despair with thoughtful responses, cultural reference and wit (“the works and days of hands That lift and drop a question on your plate”), Prufrock sustains the reader’s attention with surprise and variety, avoiding lapses into tedious effort.

The sonority of the rimes, “cheap hotels” and “oyster-shells,” “window panes” and “stand in drains,” “sudden leap” and “fell asleep,” etc., are nearly Seuss-like in their playfulness and aptly serve, I think,
to ballast the poem’s topical sarcasm with a subtle encouraging music. Baudelaire had fascinated the French half a century earlier with his use of masterly waltzing Alexandrines in regular riming patterns to depict the cacophonous characters and attitudes of the streets in Paris. That incongruity between form and content made the poems from Les Fleurs du mal bizarre and intriguing.

In his critical essay on Dante, Eliot famously stated that genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood. His appreciation of Laforgue, Baudelaire and the French symbolist movement led him to compose poetry for effects of music, erasing or confusing as much of the plain semantic register as possible. The very contrast of the “poetic” second line and the troubling third line with its medical term creates an effect of mood otherwise inexpressible:

When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table…

Similarly there are leaps and shifts of mood and tone between the sensible, educated, often ironic Prufrock persona who evokes Michelangelo, Hamlet, John the Baptist, and the self-deprecating comedian that mentions the thinning of his hair and arms and legs, and yet again the more solemn, sensitive Prufrock that sees the cat in the yellow fog and despairs at the eternal Footman who snickers at him and prompts him to confide,

And in short, I was afraid.

Few, if any of today’s poets, write with as much tonal complexity, playfulness, doubt and delicacy as Eliot did in this very early poem. Perhaps some of the persona’s anxieties about adequate speech derive from the prominent and ample music of the poem’s language itself, its suspensions, its arpeggios of mood and wit. To an extent, this admits to and somehow wants to excuse the poem’s luxuriousness.
The statements of frustration about not knowing just what he means, as it were, awake the reader from the enchantment of the music. The poem’s concluding lines make a reprise of this turn of linguistic mood:
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

In light of the indulgent social and volatile political climates at the time Prufrock was being written,
in the poem’s anticipation of what lay ahead for his readers in England and America, this was not an inconsiderable trope, mesmerizing and awaking the reader, for Eliot to have devised and made sense of, with his habit of showing rather than telling.
On the occasion of celebrating the 100th anniversary of a poem, with its epigraph from Dante reaching back another 600 years +, we come by a very tangible, localized means, the poem, to the consideration of a more elusive end, that of perpetuity, of another hundred years, and another hundred, for the poems being published newly today to be celebrated for their ability to relate the lasting things, ideas, attitudes and feelings of their language and cultural moment.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

The Wreck of the Whale Ship Essex: Introduction by Gilbert King

The Wreck of the Whale Ship Essex
By Owen Chase
Introduction by Gilbert King
Zenith Press 2015

review by Tom Miller

On November 20, 1820 a small but intrepid ship named the Essex, captained by James Pollard and out of Nantucket was hunting whales in the Pacific Ocean.  She had just dispatched her whale boats which were closing in on a pod of whales when the hunter became the prey.  A bull whale, some eighty-five feet in length, appeared on the surface of the ocean not far off the bow of the ship.  It paused as if studying a target, then started moving toward the ship at great speed and rammed the vessel with its head.  The whale proceeded underneath the Essex, swam some distance, turned and at even greater speed rammed the ship once more holing the opposite side causing it mortal damage.  After salvaging what they could Captain Pollard, First Mate Owen Chase, Second Mate Matthew P. Joy and seventeen crew members left the wreck in three small and less than substantial whale boats.  Thus began an impossible journey towards the western coast of South America some three to four thousand miles distant.  Nearly one hundred days later only seven were still alive to be rescued in three separate encounters.  Toward the end of their trials and in desperation they resorted to cannibalism. 

The Wreck of the Whale Ship Essex is First Mate Owen Chase’s account of the incident and the subsequent ordeals that ensued.  It was first published by Chase in 1821 and has been republished several times in the nearly two centuries that have elapsed since its release.  His account spawned many excellent stories of whaling, sailing, adventure and danger.  Most notable perhaps is Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea which is currently in production as a movie directed by Ron Howard.  Melville’s personal copy of Chase’s book has copious handwritten notes in his own hand which indicate how much he may have relied on this original account as he constructed his novel.
Philbrick’s approach is one of an historian.  He researched the history and background of Nantucket, the whaling industry, ship building and sailing and drew both on Chase’s account and that of Thomas Nickerson who was the cabin boy and a mere teenager when the Essex cleared Nantucket in 1819.  Nickerson was finally convinced to put his recollection of the situation to paper nearly fifty years after its occurrence and that account was misplaced until 1960 when it resurfaced and lent a somewhat different perspective to the whole affair than Chase’s.

So the question must be asked, “Why release a book first published in 1821 and republished several times in subsequent years?”  A simple answer is that this edition by Zenith Press is a beautiful book.  But beyond that, Zenith has added texture with an introduction by Pulitzer Prize Winner Gilbert King as well as a number of excerpts from Moby Dick and a variety of other tales of whaling exploits.  Also there are some one hundred and fifty pages of maps, charts and photography that are absolutely stunning.  Many photographs are of the Charles W. Morgan, the last surviving whaling ship of an American fleet of nearly 2,700 ships, which is today berthed at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut.  There is nothing quite like the sight of a three master under sail.

This book then is a collector’s item.  It stands on its own merit for those that have a casual interest in whaling and sailing and the story of the Essex.  However, for the serious collector and historian of seafarers and those who earned their living in such endeavors this is a piece that will enhance and add value to their collection.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Červená Barva Press Celebrates 10 Year Anniversary

Červená Barva Press Celebrates 10 Year Anniversary

Červená  Barva Press is celebrating 10 years of publishing. There will be a celebration on Thursday, April 16th at the Arts at the Armory in the Cervena Barva Press studio/Basement B8 at 7:00PM, 191 Highland Avenue, Somerville, MA.  Refreshments will be served. Parking is available in the back of the building.

Červená Barva Press has published poets, fiction writers and playwrights from all over the world. Many authors who are in the area will take part in the celebration by reading work from their chapbook/book that was published. The readers include:  Ed Hamiliton, Andrey Gritsman, Irene Koronas, Tim Suermondt, Steve Glines, Doug Holder, Harris Gardner, Jack Scully, Mary Bonina, Timothy Gager, Mark Pawlak, Julia Carlson, Rene Schwiesow, Catherine Sasanov, Zvi A. Sesling, Denise Bergman, Michael T. Steffen, Kathleen Aguero, Pamela Annas, Annie Pluto, Krikor Der-Hohanessian, and more to be added as they are heard from.

Červená Barva Press was founded in April 2005 by Gloria Mindock. The name means “red color” in Czech.  Gloria Mindock chose a Czech name to honor Václav Havel and operates the press with William J. Kelle.  Over the years, they have had interns from numerous colleges and volunteers. In 2014, Flavia Cosma came aboard as international editor and Tim Suermondt and Pui Ying Wong joined Irene Koronas, who has been with the press from the beginning, as book reviewers.
In 2005, Červená Barva Press published 21 poetry postcards, which included Catherine Sasanov, Eric Pankey, Michael Burkard, David Ray, Simon Perchik, Gian Lombardo, Gary Fincke, Susan Tepper, Dzvinia Orlowsky,  and others. Since 2006, the press has published 82 chapbooks and over 52 full-length books of poetry, fiction, plays, and translations, and 7 e-books which are free to read online. Červená Barva Press is one of the most active presses in the country.

The Lost Bookshelf Bookstore was started in 2005 along with the press to sell Červená Barva Press books, books on consignment by other authors and presses and used books. The bookstore is online and has a presence in the Červená Barva Press studio.

The Červená Barva Press Reading Series is held in their studio after many years having the series in the Pierre Menard Gallery in Cambridge, MA. Once that gallery closed, the press found a home in the Arts at the Armory in Somerville, MA. Events are held such as readings, workshops, panels, and a group of women writers meet each month to share new work with each other. Irene Koronas is co-host of the reading series and helps plan many of the events and whatever else the press may need.
Červená Barva Press holds chapbook contests in poetry and fiction every few years. The press also has a monthly newsletter which features interviews with editors and authors, new books by the press, new books by other presses, book reviews and writing news.

For more information, please contact: Gloria Mindock, editor & publisher

The ten year celebration is open to the public, and we hope friends of Červená Barva Press will join us and past readers in our reading series.

A Lot on Our Minds and Hidden Faces of Courage: Written by Mary Driscoll

A Lot on Our Minds
Hidden Faces of Courage
Written by Mary Driscoll
Produced by OWLL, On With Living and Learning
Cambridge YMCA Theater
820 Massachusetts Ave.
Thursday, March 26, 7:30
Friday, March 27, 7:30
Saturday, March 28, 4:00 & 8:00

by Wendell Smith

The message of A Lot on Our Minds and Hidden Faces of Courage is being celebrated with standing ovations in the theater of the Cambridge YMCA. At least it was last Saturday night and, according to the friend who urged me to review it, it had also been greeted with enthusiasm the night before. So it is successfully fulfilling the intention of its author, Mary Driscoll and of OWLL (On With Living and Learning,) the organization she founded and which is producing these performances, "to amplify the voices of women and promote social change."

I had come expecting a play, but I was given a dramatized essay, a polemic with a message so compelling that it overwhelms aesthetic considerations. However, my aesthetic considerations hope that Ms. Driscoll is not satisfied with this fulfillment of her intentions, because, if she were to proceed and give this robust skeleton of a play the muscles and nerves it needs to run, then she would have a play capable of filling a theater much larger than the Cambridge Y’s.

The performance is a eulogy for her friend, La Verne, a woman Driscoll met twelve years ago shortly after La Verne had been released from prison. It fulfills a promise  "to tell her story with the hope that it would encourage other women who were facing the challenges of reentry."

The performance begins with Giftson Joseph and Dexter Julian Miller standing behind two music stands reading A Lot on Our Minds. It is straight exposition; presumably their story because they read in the first person about the trials of women in prison and the effects of their mother’s imprisonments had upon them. Giftson makes a joke about how he got his name: his birth was unplanned, a gift, and he was a son. Following this prologue, we are given a loose collection of scenes in which Mabel, who represents La Verne, and a cohort of five women recently released from prison, Destiny, Imania, Amy, Angel and Claire, narrate their histories. Most of what we learn about them comes in expository soliloquies. Fortunately this cast is capable of keeping all this exposition from numbing us.

The production had its excellent moments, enough to keep my critical persona in his seat and wanting more. I'll mention two, because they illustrate that Miss Driscoll has the chops to make this compelling theater if she should choose to do so.

In the first, one of the women is dealing with an overworked social worker/bureaucrat (well done by Johnnie McQuarley, the only male in the cast.) As he gives her a bundle of papers that are supposed to have the information she needs to manage her reentry to the world after prison, the air around her becomes filled with pieces of paper that threaten to bury her in their drift and the dialogue becomes an exchange with the anarchic rhyming rhythm of Dr. Seuss. How much better is the sarcasm of such a sad comedy for the stage than being told, "It doesn't work."?

In another scene Mabel narrates an episode when she was consecutively raped. While her cohort supports her, she starts her tale and, as the raping begins, she dissociates from her violations by reciting the Lord's Prayer. Each recitation represents a rape, the recitations becoming more rapid and muddled; are these sins or trespasses or transgressions or worse? And by whom are they to be forgiven? This is theater; action, words not as information, but as weapons.

Driscoll is dealing with powerful material here and she has an excellent cast, Liana Asim as Mabel; Shalaye Camillo, Theresa Chiasson, Alissa Cordeiro, Chris Everett and Ela Quezada as the cohort of prisoners/freed women; and Johnnie McQuarley as the social worker, other incidental males and Mabel’s son. They are able to lift this performance out of its mass of exposition so that, although it has a way to go to be a play, you can think of your ticket as a Kickstarter donation, and the evening’s entertainment your reward for supporting OWLL’s campaign.

*********Wendell Smith is a retired M.D. and a former reporter for the Boston Phoenix. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Boston National Poetry Month Festival, 2015 April 9 -12 (Boston Public Library & Fisher College)

By Kirk Etherton   

Denise Provost/Somerville Poet/State Legislator

Somerville is home to so many fine writers, chances are good you may be one them. Even if you aren't on the "official program," perhaps you'll recite a poem at the Open Mic.

The Festival is celebrating its 15th year; 2015 promises to be more diverse and exciting than ever. It begins Thursday evening with a program of Poetry, Music & Dance (produced by Somerville resident & Berklee prof. Lucy Holstedt). Participants include various members of the Berklee community, and electric bassist Ethan Mackler.

Friday afternoon features 13 great "Keynote Poets." Included are Somerville resident & Pulitzer Prize winner Lloyd Schwartz, David Ferry (National Book Award), Kathleen Spivack, Charles Coe, and Diana Der-Hovanessian (recipient of the Barcelona Peace Prize—plus countless other accolades).

Friday evening, it's the Festival's first "High School Slam Poetry Competition." Six teams will compete. The event is hosted by well-known slam poetry organizer "Mr. Hip"; teams represent schools from Brookline, various areas of Boston, plus the North Shore.

I should mention that poet Harris Gardner—who co-founded this annual event— resides here in Somerville. Denise Provost, one of the fine "Featured Poets" on Saturday, lives here as well; of course, she is also a highly regarded State Representative. On Sunday, you won't want to miss award-winning poet Ifeanyi Menkiti (Somerville resident and owner of the world-famous Grolier Poetry Book Shop).

Somerville's Doug Holder, who kindly suggested I write this week's column, is another exceptional poet you'll want to hear on Sunday. Doug's neighbor Bert Stern, a profoundly talented writer, is reading Sunday as well.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must tell you that I, too, am a "Somervillen"! (I'll be hosting some events, and also performing.)

NOTE: this is a FREE event, and all are welcome. One reason it's free is the generosity of various excellent area businesses. In Somerville, many thanks to The Norton Group (real estate), Master Printing & Signs, Blue Cloud Gallery, and Sweet Ginger Thai Cuisine. Thanks also to Union Square's fantastic Market Basket, for helping with publicity.

In what I call "Greater Somerville," which includes Cambridge and Boston, special thanks also to Harvard Book Store, boloco, and the Middle East & ZuZu Restaurants and Nightclubs.

I can't begin to mention everything and everyone this Festival has to offer (a panel discussion on "Craft & Publishing," a reading by Boston's new Poet Laureate, book tables, etc.), so you should really check out the Festival's website.

It's easy to learn more—including how to sign up for the Open Mic I mentioned at the beginning, plus where and when everything is taking place. Go to: