My Perspective of the Ever Changing Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene
I remember coming to Boston to go to college in 1973. Back then you basically had (according to my recollection) the academic poetry crowd, fed by the plethora of universities and colleges in the area, and the alternative crowd of non-academic barbarians in the Stone Soup Poetry group founded by the late Jack Powers. Before 1998, at least for me and many others I knew in the world of the small press, you made poetry chapbooks the old fashioned way. This was a xeroxed affair, with actual cutting and pasting the text on the page. You would take your primitive booklet to the old Copy Cop on Boylston Street in Boston and hand your baby to the clerk. You hoped for the best. Our first issue of Ibbetson Street was handled by a friend of mine Jim Resnick—an employee of Copy Cop. Also during the 70’s and 80’s poets were generally unplugged, not hooked up, for the most part low-tech creatures. They were not adorned by earphones, Google Glasses–their fingers did not expressively dance out text messages. A poet would walk down the street—taking it all in—a regular Walker in the City—as Alfred Kazin aptly put it.
Well, I am going to do something that poet shouldn’t do and use a well-worn cliché—The times are a changing. All the books, etc. that we publish now are basically done digitally. No more ungainly paper manuscripts to mark up. Everything is in digital files; electronic word documents, the graphics and formatting etc. are done by my tech savvy designer Steve Glines. Although we still do traditional print runs, many of our books are print-on-demand. We now publish books when they are actually needed. Before, we would order a whole bunch, and they would wind up collecting arcane species of mold in some nook in the basement. I remember at the Mass. Poetry Festival some years back, a rather haughty editor of a tony literary magazine turned her nose up at our POD books. Today many of that editor’s ilk are embracing POD technology.
And there seems to be an explosion of poetry venues, camps, etc. For instance in 2004 a Somerville-based literary group the Bagel Bards ( that meets every Saturday morning at the Au Bon Pain in Davis Square) was founded by Harris Gardner and yours truly. The group puts out a yearly anthology and has a online literary journal, the Wilderness House Literary Review founded by Steve Glines. There are also the Carpenter Poets in Jamaica Plain, the Cantab Lounge in Cambridge, which host poetry slams every Wednesday evening; the Out of the Blue Arts Gallery hosts a number of poetry and fiction readings hosted by literary activists Timothy Gager and Chad Parenteau. And of course since I love all things Somerville I must mention our new Arts Armory that houses the Cervena Barva Book Shop and Reading Series, as well as the First and Last Word Reading Series founded by Gloria Mindock and Harris Gardner.
One thing that I see that disturbs me (and this may be due to the fact that I am flirting with sixty) is how plugged in younger poets and the creative writing students I teach are to today. I find they are often texting, clogging their ears with multi-colored plugs, and answering the siren call of cell phones. I always tell my students–for the most part 18 to 20 year olds, that they have to unplug to be open to their senses: sight, smell, sound, taste, etc. I tell them they need to observe–not have their head buried over the sacred cell to see what the latest LOL or whatnot is about. But of course I always have my cell in the deep pockets of my carpenter pants, and my laptop is at my beck and call…and yes, I still write poetry. I am anxious to see what the new generations bring to the plate because after all we feed off each other, and I am glad to be part of that continuum.
The Off the Shelf column this week was originally on the http://www.masspoetry.org site Mass. Poetry.