Thursday, January 9, 2014

Librarian Among the Poets

This morning's Globe South section of The Boston Globe has a wonderful article that I want to share, along with the comments I put on my Facebook page (where it is easier to "share" the entire article with a couple of clicks, but whence I am still unable to embed my post here, so I'm doing it manually in several steps.) The article is "Poets step up to the mike at Plymouth Center for the Arts" by Robert Knox. I will paste the text of the article below, after sharing the thoughts and memories it evoked in me.
Thanks to Robert Knox for dedicating so much "ink" to these wonderful poets and their performances. In 2004 I became Executive Director of the Brockton Public Library. Organizers Phil Hasouris and the late Frank Miller asked if I would "allow" the Brockton Library Poetry Series, which moved to the library the previous year, to continue. "Allow it? I'll promote it!" We collaborated with Arnie Danielson to turn this loose “organization" into the non-profit corporation, the Greater Brockton Society for Poetry and the Arts, which continued the monthly series for seven years. It moved to the Fuller Craft Museum after I left the library. (I pleaded for my only legacy to be continued nurturing of this magnificent partnership, to no avail.) I had the opportunity to listen to, and discuss their work with, Ryk McIntyre (in the photo) Mike Amado (photo in body of the article) Jack Scully who keeps the Plymouth series going in memory of Mike, Nancy Brady Cunningham, who edited Mike's last book with Jack, and so many others. I have a shelf full of books autographed "To Harry The Librarian" and had the honor of interviewing many world class poets for video. My interview with United States Poet Laureate Maxine Kumin, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, is on YouTube. As Maxine Kumin says of contemporary poetry, "Prepare to be astonished!"
Poets step up to the mike at Plymouth Center for the Arts
The monthly poetry reading series at the Plymouth Center for the Arts was created six years ago by a Plymouth poet with only a short time to live and a Boston poet who befriended him, to create a local opportunity for poets to share their work and network. “There was nothing going on in the Plymouth area” for poets, said Jack Scully, who founded the series with Mike Amado, the late Plymouth resident who wrote poems about the contemporary social and political climate and about his own medical journey. They approached the Plymouth Center for the Arts, the nonprofit arts organization housed in a former town library in Plymouth Center, and proposed the reading series, titled “Poetry: The Art of Words.” Shortly after they got it off the ground, Scully said, “Mike knew he was on the way out.” He died five years ago this month, at age 33. Scully, who has since retired from his job with the state, promised he would keep the open mike series going. A lifetime resident of Plymouth, Amado was diagnosed with end-stage kidney disease in his early teens. Also a musician, a drummer, he graduated from Plymouth North High School and attended Quincy Community College in Plymouth, although his education was interrupted by his medical condition. Amado published several books of poetry with small publishers. Scully edited his last book (with Nancy Brady Cunningham), “The Book of Arrows,” and had it published. According to the Greater Brockton Society for Poetry and the Arts, which runs a reading series Amado participated in, he wrote “lyrical, rhythm-based” poems including medically inspired poems such as “Just Waiting.” That poem begins: “Waiting for the Doctor/ Waiting for the pills/ Waiting for the scalpel/ Waiting to heal/ Waiting for treatment to begin/ Waiting for treatment to end/ Waiting to feel better/ Waiting to feel worse.”
“The Art of Words” readings begin with acoustic music, then two featured readers before opening the microphone up to whoever else has brought something to read that day. Local participants in the readings include Plymouth’s Charles Harper, who has published three books of poems, including “Gratitude,” a book of meditations each using a term for “gratitude” or “thank you” in a different tongue. “It seems that our species has an urgent and universal need to say ‘thank you’ to that Mystery from whom we come,” he writes in the book’s preface. Another reader, Elizabeth Hanson of Plymouth, has published poems in the anthology of The Bagel Bards, a long-established Cambridge poetry group, and by Ibbetson Street, a long-established Boston poetry publisher. Ryk McIntyre of Providence, a featured reader in Sunday’s reading, calls himself a “performance poet.” “Performance poets get up and perform,” McIntyre said. “Some people have told me I come across as a combination of Robin Williams and Lewis Black. . . . I’m a grumpy humanist.” He is also a four-time National Poetry Slam team member and a cohost of The Cantab poetry readings in Cambridge. The world of “poetry slams” takes poetry out of the academy and puts it on the live stage where participants “perform” and compete before judges for numerical scores. It’s akin to theater and standup comedy “couched in Olympic-style scoring,” McIntyre said. “The judges are chosen at random from the audience.” The idea of the slam is to attract people “who normally wouldn’t be caught dead at a poetry reading,” McIntyre said. Slam venues in the Boston area include the Cantab Lounge and the Lizard Lounge, both in Cambridge. McIntyre participated in the Providence Slam and earned his way onto the national poetry slam team. His performance poetry has also led to national tour dates. He performed as an opening act for musician Leon Redbone and for poet and National Public Radio commentator Andrei Codrescu and took part in the Lollapalooza music festival. He has also performed at the New School in New York City and Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Arts and Strand Theater. He recently published his first complete book of poems, titled “After Everything Burns,” consisting of poems written in the last year and a half when, McIntyre said, his second marriage fell apart. “Doors are the ghosts of conversations,” he writes in the title poem, “framed with slamming; this house was wall-papered in shouts.” Sunday’s reading also features Boston poet and visual artist Elizabeth Quinlan, author of “Promise Supermarket” (published by Ibbetson Street Press). She is a graduate of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and a member of the Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences. Quinlan is currently working on a collection of poems based on the life of Maud Cuney-Hare (1874-1936), an eminent scholar of African-American music, pianist, and composer. Scully said the meeting area in the Plymouth Center for the Arts seats about 50, and the open mike readings draw a diverse crowd with readers ages 12 to 81. Typically, about 15 to 20 people step up to the mike. Along with the music at the beginning, the gathering offers refreshments and an opportunity for poets to mingle and talk about what they’re up to. Encouraging poets through networking opportunities, Scully said, is one of the reasons the series has received a grant from the Plymouth Cultural Council.

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