Ryan Gallagher, Chuck Levenstein, and I had a good afternoon in Gloucester reading poems for about 20 people at the Gloucester Writers Center, which is a small house on East Main Street that was once the home of poet Vincent Ferrini, longtime poet laureate of Gloucester and a disciple of Charles Olson’s.
I’m always impressed by people who can say their poems by heart, and Ryan reeled off several when he got up to present. He even sang a song and turned an old Keats piece into a semi-rap. Later, he read three of his translations of poems by Catullus, brought over into English from the original Latin dating from about 500 B.C. An English teacher at Malden High, Ryan mentioned that his school is all in for the Poetry Out Loud project, a national poetry recitation project that now rivals the national spelling bee. All 2,000 students at Malden memorize poems for the program. Ryan is also co-founder of Bootstrap Press of Lowell, publisher of “Young Angel Midnight,” the award-winning anthology of writing, visual art, and music by younger artists of Lowell.
Chuck Levenstein is a poet and scholar, some of whose poetry falls into the “social practice” zone of creative work that we are beginning to hear more about. His segment of the reading began with a short video made by our host, filmmaker Henry Ferrini, combining one of Chuck’s compositions with black-and-white images made by documentary photographer Earl Dotter—pictures of people suffering from job-related illnesses, like black lung. Chuck is an economist and public health specialist who for many years taught and researched at UMass Lowell. He also read some humorous poems about retirement, one about having a big office and not wanting to be remembered only for that temporary possession. He also read a few pieces from a recent special issue of The Bridge Review: Merrimack Valley Culture, assembled in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Bread and Roses Strike in Lawrence, Mass. Chuck and UMass Lowell history professor Bob Forrant co-edited the issue, which can be seen online here.
For my part, I read selections from my compilation of Lowell writings, “What Is the City?”, and a few other pieces. I opened with a tribute to Charles Olson, reading part of Letter 3 of “Maximus, to Gloucester” from his masterwork called “The Maximus Poems.”