The Poetry Scene
Readings and gatherings where you might feel comfortable as an ordinary (eg, unpretentious) citizen of Boston.
The Bagel Bards (or Bagels with the Bards)
Saturday mornings at Au Bon Pain, Davis Square, Somerville
A group of poets varied in age, race, gender meet, share poems, discuss poetry, drink lots of coffee, chew a bagel if so desired, sometimes sell their books. The atmosphere is generous and open to all, and you donít have to be a poet to attend. What I find most exciting about the Bards, people here are not conscious of reputation and achievement, but love the poem and good friendly unpretentious talk. That doesnít mean that pretensions donít exist if thatís what you desire, but the coffee is strong, the people sincere and are publishers of small press magazines, pamphlets and books. If you want to be in an atmosphere that is intelligent without self-involved, convoluted literary talk of people who need to prove themselves and announce themselves as artists, here is a place to find the pleasure that good literary company may offer.
A bookstore that is owned by a poet of reputation who is also a professor of philosophy is unique. Even more so, it is a genuine literary bookstore with a very friendly, helpful manager and assistant who are very familiar with the stock, which includes international or world poetry, African American, feminist, small press, the standard and the major books of poetry that youíll not find in any other bookstore anywhere. Billy Collins is there, alongside Doug Holder, Robert Frost and the latest National Book Award winner. You also find yourself in the shadow of literary history.
When I came to Boston 30 or 40 years ago, The Grolier was already known to me in Baltimore. If you had published a poem on the back of a napkin, it would be there somewhere under a pile of books on a table or on one of the many overcrowded shelves. In padlocked cases were first editions of Eliot, Frost, and other luminati, as well as the poetry of generations of American poets on the shelves or in a pile on the table. It was also the home of the couch, where Gordon Cairnie, the then-owner, would sit with American poets who enjoyed his company because he was not interested in poetry, but being in a bookstore with writers who liked to be there with him and their books. It was a writerís hangout and when I walked into the Grolier, I met New York poets such as the then-legendary Donald Hall. That was the old Grolier, before Louisa Solano became the manager, when it became an actual bookstore with books alphabetized on the shelf, neatly displayed on the tables, organized and run by a woman who knew, loved and understood poetry. It was less of a hangout and place to go to look up a poem. It was, and still is, a place to be if youíre a writer or graduate student, or in a place devoted to literature. For more information on the history of The Grolier, there is an excellent article on wikipedia.
Tapestry of Voices
Exactly what it is called, a varied range of poets reading at open mikes at the Parker House and other venues throughout the city of Boston and also a marathon poetry event at Boston Public Library during Poetry Month. Both Doug and Harris are what I call ďthe outlaws,Ē because their reading series exist independent of NEA or local grants and theyíre generally open to the public and more comfortable than the readings usually given at bookshops and on campuses. In many ways, itís a throwback to the readings that began in the coffee shops and living rooms of the late 1950s. You just never know what to expect.
The Carpenter Poets
Based in Jamaica Plain, if not reading, they can be found at a bar and restaurant named The Gate. These are in many ways the poets of the six-pack in jeans. They see themselves as being working poets; i.e., carpenters. But what distinguishes the Carpenter Poets is that they have a genuine populist appeal.
New England Poetry Club
Grolier Bookstore Readings and Signings
See comments on the Grolier.
A prolific literary press housed in Somerville, not as influential as it should be due to the lack of available shelf space for poetry and the now sense of decline of the independent bookstore. Ibbetson Press books are as varied and more provocative than most publications of poetry. Ibbetson Press books are available for sale online and in selected bookstores.