The Brookline Poetry Series Weblog

April 22, 2008

Mi Familia, Su Familia…

Filed under: Uncategorized — brooklinepoetry @ 5:46 pm

I just returned from a weekend in Vermont where we celebrated my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. It was a delightful affair, with relatives from all over converging. New babies, babies to come, old folk, middle-aged rest of us. Everyone got along, packed their ennui into small pouches and kept it hidden. The weather was glorious–summer-feel with hot sun, warm breezes, a bit of sweating.

I watched the sun go down over the hill behind the granite sheds on Main Street and felt maybe it wasn’t so bad coming from that town. I held my not-quite two-year-old niece in my arms, the second to be adopted from China, listened to the gleeful noise coming from inside the restaurant, and felt very, very grateful.

We all come from someplace, and most of us–poets especially–carry around a sense of disease that we spend our lives writing about and trying to understand. Once in awhile a grace note sounds. It is worth noting this rare flower.

I don’t know how this goodness will wend its way into new poems, but I am hopeful I can craft something that measures beauty equal to despair. Here’s a poem I like that may steer me toward imagining my parents before they met:

A Family History
At dusk the girl who will become my mom
must trudge through the snow, her legs
cold under skirts, a bandanna tight on her braids.
In the henhouse, a klook pecks her chapped hand
as she pulls a warm egg from under its breast.
This girl will always hate hens,
and she already knows she won't marry a farmer.
In a dim barn, my father, a boy, forks hay
under the holsteins' steaming noses.
They sway on their hooves and swat dangerous tails,
but he is thinking of snow, how it blows
across the gray pond scribbled with skate tracks,
of the small blaze on its shore, and the boys
in black coats who skate hand-in-hand
round and round, building up speed
until the leader cracks that whip
of mittens and arms, and it jerks around
fast, flinging off the last boy.
He'd be that one--flung like a spark
trailing only his scarf.
-- Julia Kasdorf
from The Sleeping Preacher
University of Pittsburgh Press



April 1, 2008

National Poetry Month

Filed under: Uncategorized — brooklinepoetry @ 7:58 pm

Okay, I know there’s a lot of mixed feeling about this–shouldn’t we acknowledge poetry 365 days a year and not just 30? But at least we have some public awareness attempted.

I spoke with a young student teacher at Milton High School this week; she’s launching a poetry unit to coincide with National Poetry Month, and reports enormous enthusiasm for the project. In fact, Milton HS has an annual poetry event where students read and perform their own work and it was the highest attended non-athletic event last year.

I speculated that there is a lot of poetry happening all the time–in schools, cafes, living rooms, and libraries all across the country. It’s just that the pop culture zeitgeist hasn’t allowed it to filter through. And maybe that’s a good thing. What would happen if Paris Hilton or another overexposed, uninspiring celeb began reciting Whitman during visits to clubs and spas? It would be attributed to her handlers, who had become temporarily insane in recommending such a move.

Maybe the better question is whether Walt Whitman would want to be read by Paris Hilton. Let’s think about this. W.W. was one of the most broad-minded individuals of the 19th century. Perhaps he would have great sympathy for someone so narrow in her world view. Perhaps he would include her recent legal woes in this stirring pronouncement:

The shapes arise!

The shape of the prisoner’s place in the court-room, and of him or her seated in the place.

The shape of the liquor-bar lean’d against by the young rum-drinker and the old rum-drinker,

The shape of the shamed and angry stairs trod by sneaking footsteps,

The shape of the sly settee, and the adulterous unwholesome couple,

The shape of the gambling-board with its devilish winnings and losings,

The shape of the step-ladder for the convicted and sentenced murderer, the murderer with haggard face and pinion’d arms,

The sheriff at hand with his deputies, the silent and white-lipp’d crowd, the dangling of the rope.

Okay, a bit of a leap, I know (she hasn’t actually killed anyone that we’re aware of, though one does wonder what happens to all those teacup dogs she carries under her arm over the years), but I could see this being addressed to a celebutante wearing out her welcome, her tiara loose and rusting.

I hope we can all celebrate poetry in our own unique ways in the coming weeks. In the meantime, see you at our Friday reading–Sue Standing and Kevin Bowen, plus our remarkable open mike.

Here’s something to keep us aware of our place in the world.

— SR

March 17, 2008

Old friends, dear friends

Filed under: Uncategorized — brooklinepoetry @ 4:45 pm

The wonderful earth mother Eva Bourke was in Boston last week with her amazingly accomplished artist son, Benji. It was a grand reunion. She read with Rosanna Warren at Suffolk University on Tuesday, and on Thursday Molly Lynn and Dan Watt hosted a gathering over at Cambridge co-housing where Eva showed some of her daughter Miriam’s documentary work and we all read poems with a political content.

I first worked with Eva at the Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences at UMass-Boston. Host of a wonderful two-week writing workshop each summer.

Although I’d been writing poems since childhood, it was with Eva’s kind and thoughtful tutelage that I began to believe I could write seriously, be taken seriously as a poet. Her criticism was astute but empathetic. I learned a great deal from her about how to guide a beginning writer. One of my favorite of Eva’s remarks was that the workshop was a place where we work on “lifting the hem and adjusting the cuffs, not remaking the whole garment.”

It was exactly what I needed and it put me on a steady path. Seeing Eva reminded me of the precious poetry community we’ve built together through the Brookline Poetry Series, which was truly a satellite community of the Joiner workshop. All of us founders met either in Eva or Fred Marchant’s workshop; we are still writing together, encouraging each other’s progress and development.

Poets do not write in solitary garrets in isolation. My students continue to believe that the whiskey-drinking loner is the epitome of creative expression. Not true! Every poet I study and teach was a part of a community: Shakespeare had Marlowe and his fellow sonnet-makers and playwright colleagues. Where would Wordsworth be without Coleridge? And the Harlem Renaissance? Not much of a rebirth without that vibrant group of painters, playwrights, poets, musicians all engaged in art-making, political action and argument.

We are always in dialogue. That’s what keeps the work alive.

— SR

March 8, 2008

Spring can’t come soon enough…

Filed under: Uncategorized — brooklinepoetry @ 3:57 pm

I’ve been urged by my soul brother John Anderson to keep up the blog, so, one more post today. I’m turning my thoughts to Spring, as we all are after this rigorous New England winter.

I speak frequently with my mother, who lives in central Vermont (scene of the crimes, as it were) and they’ve had more than 100 feet of snow this winter; broken every record since anyone began to keep them. Last time I was there, the plowman had driven the snow up into 12-foot banks along the icy drive.

They keep the car in a garage, but it’s still a lot to ask of a person in her seventies to navigate the back steps to the car and try to back out of that snow pass.

So, I’m thinking Spring. I can hear the birds this morning, joyous as usual. Just little sparrows that light upon the wires crisscrossing the alley, but they sound a call for change. They’re here all winter, little dears. I’m constantly surprised by them, especially after a heavy snow or bitter cold snap. How do they survive? Makes me want to research sparrows.

What most surprised me when I moved to Boston in the mid-80’s was how different here the climate from the one I knew up north: I could ride my bike in February! Geese, ducks, sparrows, and probably others, didn’t migrate!

I come now to the close of my own Spring Break, having done little of the paid labor, but laboring in other ways, and listening to the birds outside the window, hopeful as I see the hardy crocus shoots emerge from the little plot next to the front stoop. Warm weather to follow.

Here’s something from grandpappy Virgil to keep us all going.

— SR

News You Can Use

Filed under: Uncategorized — brooklinepoetry @ 3:22 pm

First, congratulations to our own dear Ann Killough, who has just won the L.L. Winship/PEN New England Award for her amazing first full-length collection, Beloved Idea.

I told Ann I think it will win the Pulitzer as well and she doesn’t believe me.  We’ll see…

I also want to give a free plug to Bert Stern and Tam Lin Neville’s Off the Grid Press.  What a wonderful venture–a place for poets over age 60 to publish their work.  The inagural title, Loyalty: New and Selected Poems, by Henry Braun, has just won a 2008 Maine Literary Award.

Bert and Tam are true believers.  They work tirelessly for poets.  We love them.

— SR

Smooth Move

Filed under: Uncategorized — brooklinepoetry @ 3:08 pm

It couldn’t have gone better, frankly, and we are amazed.

We held our series reading in new quarters last night, and with resounding success. I told the assembled that it felt a little like moving into the Four Seasons after having lived at Motel Six.

Gail Mazur was absolutely remarkable, and “lovely” Liam Powell, a Boston College senior and prodigy, opened. We had about 75 people in attendance and poems flowed deliciously all night. Gail read two baseball poems, Margo read another in the open mic. It feels perfectly timed. I also loved a poem of Gail’s which adapted a title from (I think it was) Borges: History of My Stupidity. Hers was History of My Timidity. Lovely, lovely. Other possibilities we came up with at dinner: History of My Cupidity (me); History of My Humidity (Katie Moulton).

The Turkish food at The Family Restaurant in Brookline Village was also sublime. Vicki Murray came after her own reading in town (yey!); and here’s a plug for her wonderful poetry series, Poetribe. She took pictures:johnandkathrine.jpgJim Henle, Aimee Sands, Michael MackKatie Moulton, Sue, Liam Powellprabakarandstephanieandann.jpg

We’re off to a great start in the new space. Berred Ouellette read one of his wife Dianne’s poems; Dianne started the series seven years ago. I think, and hope, she would be proud of what we’ve achieved. She remains the guiding spirit for what we do.

Next month: Kevin Bowen and Sue Standing. Hope everyone can come!

— SR

February 20, 2008

We’re Moving!

Filed under: Uncategorized — brooklinepoetry @ 5:40 pm

Our last reading at Brookline Booksmith was bittersweet. The amazing John Deane was our feature, with the delightful Judy Herman as opener. A great last hurrah in Coolidge Corner.

We’ve loved being in that space for almost seven years, but we’ve gotten so big the store can no longer accommodate our rowdy clan each month.

Fortunately, some guardian angels have stepped in and, with some pleasurable negotiations, we’re proud to say we’ll finish out our season at the main branch of the Brookline Public Library, 361 Washington St. in Brookline Village. Accessible by the green line T and several MBTA buses.

Our next reading in the new space, the sublime Hunneman Hall, is Friday, March 7, at 7 p.m. Feature is Gail Mazur, with rising star Liam Powell as opener.

We hope it’s a smooth transition; we’ll finish out this season on the first Friday of the month as always, but for the 2008-09 season will move to Sunday afternoons.

Thanks to all our supporters and friends.

Here’s a poem I thought might be apt.

— SR

January 23, 2008

February Update

Filed under: Uncategorized — brooklinepoetry @ 7:52 pm

Our feature poet in February will be the Irish bard John F. Deane, not our beloved Fred Marchant (who will be schmoozing the literati at AWP that weekend). Once I’ve mastered Dreamweaver, I’ll update the website, but in the meantime, you can check out info. on John here and here. Also, he’s in residence at Boston College during the Spring term as the Burns Library Visiting Scholar in Irish Studies (he’s donated his papers to the Burns Library, lucky us). He’s teaching a poetry workshop this semester; some of my undergraduates are in it and finding John to be, well, amazing.

Plus, he’s got a Wikipedia citation (that has to count for some sort of legacy, no?). We’re thrilled he’ll be reading for us, and hope to pack the house.

— SR

Shame and the Writing Life

Filed under: Uncategorized — brooklinepoetry @ 7:39 pm

Oh boy, it’s mid-January and I haven’t posted anything in weeks. Ever have that problem? First final exams rolled in, then the holidays took their toll, then back to school and second-semester upramping. It’s only the second week of classes and I’m already tired.

The problem with all of this is the self-recrimination. That I’m somehow not holding up my end of things. Except that I’m the agent of this here blog–I’m not reporting to anybody, not accountable unless some lone reader weighs in (so far there’ve been three responses in six months, so I don’t think I’m burning down the house).

I’m an expert at emotional self-mutilation. Been practicing for four decades or so. Shame, as someone once said, is a soul-destroyer. Guilt, however, according to Woody Allen, is the most selfish emotion. So, which is it that I feel–shame or guilt? Hard to say. I felt the burden of posting lo these past weeks, but was it that gut-rending sense of perpetual inadequacy or the wearisome sense of should should should?

Well, I’m here now, so I’ll dispense with the naval gazing.

Since I’ve been in exile, several things have occurred: we had a fantabulous December reading with Freddy Frankel and Lesle Lewis, sterling writers and readers both. A memorable night–and our biggest crowd ever (my headcount was 85). In January, Ann Killough read from her new book, Beloved Idea, and it, too, was a grand evening. Sublime, really. It’s amazing how great our open mike continues to be month after month. Our community is dedicated, smart and funny. We rock!

Our reader(s?) of this modest blog should (might?) feel free to apprise me of events that would be of interest to and/or connected to our series regulars.

Okay, I’ve done my duty; now I can rest easy. Or not.

— SR

December 3, 2007

You Rock, Ann Killough, You Rock!

Filed under: Uncategorized — brooklinepoetry @ 1:32 pm

Our dear Ann had a boffo book launch for her amazing collection, Beloved Idea, on Saturday. Everyone was there–pretty much every person I’ve ever seen at the Poetry Series, local editors, teachers, and some psychics.

Everyone was invited to don a Statue of Liberty crown. Charming to see all those bright green floppy tiaras floating around the room.

The food was unbelievably good and plentiful. There were big cushy chairs for schmoozing (ah, Harvard; to have unlimited resources!), lots of mingling and chat, and did I mention the food?

The best part, of course, was hearing Ann read. Three poems from the book, plus “Leaves of Grass” from her amazing chapbook. The estimable Fred Marchant, friend and mentor to us all, gave a splendid and heartfelt introduction.

It’s astonishing to me that our community of writers has grown as it has, resulting in so many fine poets and publications in the last five years.

We convene once more this Friday to hear the ever delightful Freddy Frankel, and another fine Alice James Poet, Lesle Lewis. See you there!

— SR

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