Getting to Know Ken Bresler and his New book Poetry Made Visible: Boston Sites for Poetry Lovers, Art Lovers & Lovers
So your new book is quite the concept, but it’s not actually a poetry collection, right?
Right. It’s a guidebook to the public art sites in Boston affiliated with poetry: poetry installations and statues and busts of poets. I call it the intersection of poetry and public art in Boston.
I take it that both are interests of yours?
Bresler: Yes, I’ve been writing about public art since the 1980s. I’ve been writing poetry for only about a decade now. None of my poems are in the book, by the way.
How did your book come about?
It started as an article for National Poetry Month, something that I envisioned The Boston Globe picking up. I planned to discuss the names of poets carved into the Boston Public Library façade, along with other luminaries; the poem on a granite obelisk in Copley Square; and statues of Robert Burns, Phillis Wheatley, Edgar Allan Poe, and other poets. But a few paragraphs about the Boston Public Library grew into a chapter. The poem in Copley Square was part of a linear poetry installation of nine poems, I learned, so that became a chapter. Wheatley and the rest became a separate chapter called “Dispersed Sites,” which is a more eloquent way of saying “Miscellaneous.” And there’s a fourth chapter.
Tell me about the linear poetry installation.
A lot of Boston area residents I’ve talked to haven’t heard of the Southwest Corridor Park. And most of the ones who are familiar with it don’t know that it has literary installations. The Southwest Corridor Expressway was a highway project that was killed in the 1970s, but it was a barren swath till the ‘80s. Then two things happened, three, actually. The elevated part of the Orange Line was torn down and the Orange Line was shifted to the Southwest Corridor. A park, with walking, running, and cycling paths, went in next to the Orange Line. And the third thing was, to link the new part of the Orange Line and the park, a poem and a prose piece were carved in granite at or near each of nine stations, from Jamaica Plain to Tufts New England Medical Center. You can visit each poem and prose piece by taking an Orange Line trip or by cycling, jogging, or walking the length of the park. My book has the first in-depth discussion of the Southwest Corridor Park’s literary installations.
Any other firsts?
Two others. The fourth chapter is about the Davis Square Station on the T’s Red Line. It has 11 poems and poem excerpts sandblasted into bricks, 9 of them on the train platform. It hasn’t really been written about before, at least not like it deserves to be. And in the “Dispersed Sites” chapter, I discuss The Massachusetts Artifact, a huge floor-to-ceiling bronze screen in a state office building on Beacon Hill. It has a lot of, well, artifacts, including ovals with initials. Some of the initials are obvious, like JFK and JQA – John Quincy Adams. But some of the initials are not so obvious, nor the symbolism of items, like ducks, squirrels, and a telephone. The sculptor Alfred Duca installed his art in 1975 and wrote notes explaining the artifacts, and expected the state to turn them into a booklet. But it never did. I flew down to Washington, D.C. and read Duca’s papers in the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art. One thing I learned is that of the Massachusetts notables whom Duca honored with their initials, a tenth were poets. For example, “ED” is for Emily Dickinson. “HWL” is for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Because The Massachusetts Artifact hadn’t really been written about, I wrote about the whole sculpture in my book, not just the poets whose initials appear in it.
How do you anticipate people will use your book?
You’ve heard of a date movie? This is a date book. It’s for lovers and lovers-to-be. I hope that people buy it for Valentine’s Day and National Poetry Month and the summer, so that they can cycle along the Southwest Corridor Park and stop and read the poems to each other. But it’s not just for dates. It’s for students and teachers as well. There are quotes and questions for each site. One of my favorite quotes at the end of the Boston Public Library chapter is from an Allen Ginsberg poem: “America why are your libraries full of tears?” The book is for everyone. Go to the Kahlil Gibran Memorial and read some of his poems. Go to the Burns statue and read some of his poems.
Do you have a favorite poem in the book?
It’s probably the poem in the Ruggles Station on the Orange Line, a poem by Samuel Allen about Harriet Tubman.
Do you have a favorite piece of public art in the book?
Poe Returning to Massachusetts by Stefanie Rocknak. It’s one of the best pieces of public art in Boston.