United and Mingling: Poetry and Boston
by Danielle Legros Georges
Boston’s Poet Laureate here, responding to Mass Poetry’s request that I send word from my post (at moments my perch in Dorchester, at others my office at Lesley University). Tell us what you’ve been up to and what you look forward to, asked Jackie Malone. Jackie, here is the task before me—and part of my official position description: raising the status of poetry in the everyday consciousness of Bostonians, acting as an advocate for poetry, language and the arts, and creating a unique artistic legacy through public readings and civic events.
The Poet Laureate Program sits within the Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture—reflecting Mayor Walsh’s leadership and embracing of the value of the arts to Boston as well as the role that culture plays in our everyday lives. Boston’s an amazing place for literature and the arts. It’s got an extraordinary literary past, and recently it became the first city in the country to host a Literary Cultural District. In general, Boston’s landscape pulses with contemporary writers and readers.
As Poet Laureate I’ve explored known and exciting new terrain, and been welcomed by a number of assemblies and organizations who’ve made poetry a part of their programs, including Mayor Walsh’s State of the City 2015, the City’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service and Celebration in partnership with the Museum of African American History; the first annual Hubbub: Creative Commotion for Kids Festival; and the Boston Public Library as it unveiled its newly-renovated Children’s Room at the Central Branch.
It’s been a joy to embody in some way Boston’s literary traditions—and an honor to follow Boston’s first Poet Laureate Sam Cornish. Sam established visiting hours at the Boston Public Library’s Central Branch in Copley Square during his tenure. Why not carry this practice on I thought? I have, and began holding monthly visiting hours in the various branches in neighborhoods across the city. From East Boston to Roxbury poems have been read, workshopped—and the freedom of free verse and the merits of form discussed and debated hotly in some cases! Budding and seasoned poets have participated in what is quickly becoming a workshop and a way to share the joys and questions of poetry writing and appreciation.
Another way to share the poetry love is to amplify the great work already being done by Boston-affiliated poets and poetry publishers, and in the many poetry communities: in groups of performance poets, slam poets, spoken-word artists, self-identified “community poets,” poets affiliated with schools, colleges, and universities, teachers using poetry as pedagogical tools in their classrooms, and translators of poetry.
One vehicle of amplification is a new monthly Poet Laureate Newsletter. Another is the Boston Poet Spotlight Reading Series whose first reading was held in May, and whose second will take place on October 15 at 7 pm at Newbury Street’s Trident Booksellers and Café. The reading will feature Central Square Press’s editor and several writers.
Also to come is participation in the Institute of Contemporary Art/ Boston’s Leap Before You Look, the first comprehensive museum exhibition on the subject of Black Mountain College to take place in the United States. The exhibition, to premiere in October, features individual works by more than ninety artists, student work, archival materials, a soundscape, as well as a piano and a dance floor for performances. Accompanying the exhibition will be performances and educational programs, which include 8 poets I’m asking to bring artwork to life through ekphrasis.
Finally, the Poet Laureate Program is committed to extending its programming to reach specifically Boston youth and seniors. I’m delighted to mention two very new initiatives. The first draws on the strength of a small and strong team of poets who will work in Boston adult day health centers and nursing homes. The second is a partnership with Troubadour Inc., an organization that improves student literacy and academic achievement in area schools through arts-integrated instruction. Troubadour will take poetry workshops to the Lila Frederick Middle School. Both programs underscore poetry’s role in community engagement and life-long learning.
From the great poet Pablo Neruda come these words, “I believe that poetry is an action, ephemeral or solemn, in which there enter as equal partners solitude and solidarity, emotion and action, the nearness to oneself, the nearness to mankind and to the secret manifestations of nature. And no less strongly I think that all this is sustained . . . by an ever-wider sense of community, by an effort which will forever bring together the reality and the dreams in us because it is precisely in this way that poetry unites and mingles them . . .”
The Poet Laureate Program is charged with generating new opportunities for education, awareness, and the promotion of literacy through the beauty and excellence of poetry—and I can’t think of a better thing to do. Thanks Mass Poetry for this opportunity to share information on the Boston Poet Laureate Program.
Om addition to being Boston’s Poet Laureate, Danielle Legros Georges is a Professor in the Creative Arts in Learning Division of Lesley University. She also teaches in the Joiner Institute for the Study of War and Social Consequences summer Writer's Workshop, at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.