Thank you to all the performers for making this such a truly wonderful, deeply emotional night! Your stories are pieces of yourselves quite generously given, pieces we will be honored to carry with us, always.
On April 26th, I attended a poetry reading by Kristine Doll and Peter Thabit Jones. Kristine Doll is the author of the poetry collection Speak to Me Again. Twice now, she has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize in poetry. One of Doll’s most noteworthy works is her translation of Catalan Poetry. Doll’s work has been published internationally and is a Professor of World Languages and Cultures at Salem State University in Salem, MA.
Peter Thabit Jones is a Welsh poet who currently lives in Swansea, United Kingdom. His work has been translated into 22 languages, and is the recipient of many awards, among them is the Eric Gregory Award for Poetry. In addition, Thabit Jones is also a former Professor at the University of Swansea.
The reading was held at the Grolter Poetry Book Shop in Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA. This bookshop is small, intimate, and quiet, but once it filled up with poetry-lovers, it came to life with ideas. Its small size makes for a quiet atmosphere, except for the rolling Red Line trains beneath our feet.
As soon as I walked through the door (that I finally was able to close on the third try), the walls came to life because of the passionate writers who had come from as far as Gloucester, MA to share their love for poetry. Once I sat down, I realized as soon as I was offered a glass of wine that this wasn’t a lecture, but a group of poets sharing and appreciating each other’s work. (I declined the wine offer, for obvious reasons.)
Doll’s poetry that she shared had two main foci: translations, and the love she has for her deceased parents. The work Doll shared about her parents were the ones that I enjoyed the most, because although she shared just a few words, the passion and love that she has for her parents was evident. Doll shared a piece titled My Aunt, which tells the story of Doll’s belief that her Aunt came down from heaven to retrieve her mother.
Thabit Jones’ showed his passion for poetry through his relaxed persona, which really invited those in the audience to really become engaged. Thabit Jones began his readings by telling the audience that he felt “drunk” due to the extreme jet-lag he was experiencing. Thabit Jones shared that his humble beginnings of living in the “ugly” part of Swansea still inspire his work today.
The most noteworthy piece of Thabit Jones’ incorporates humor with a message, which was a great technique for him to employ, as it pulled in the audience. Stones is about a stone wall that Thabit Jones attempted to build, but failed, however, he still never viewed it as a waste of time as he got to make a poem about it, and that is “all that matters to a poet.”
This poetry reading was far more than people gathering to listen; it was a small community within Boston where people share their work with one another. The bookshop where the reading is held is the vehicle, the people are the drivers, and the poetry is the fuel that ignites the engine, which inspires and pushes writers to keep writing.
-Mitchell O’Connor, Class of 2019
On Thursday, April 21st, I attended a short reading of The First House, a work in process written and read by Amy Agigian. Amy Agigian is a Suffolk University Sociology professor as well
as an author (Baby Steps: How Lesbian Alternative Insemination is Changing the World), and the Founding Director of the Center for Women’s Health and Human Rights. When first arriving to the Poetry Center in the Sawyer Library, the room was loud, where friends, students, and faculty were all talking among themselves as Amy set up.
The room instantly quieted, however, about five minutes later when she began to speak. Professor Agigian passed around a piece of paper first, to write down each of our names and email addresses, so we could receive a notice when the book was published, and then started into how she began her new book. She describes, “There are these stories inside me that just want to come out,” and discussed that she had started by writing a list of all these different stories, and then realized that the list was interconnected and has been combining the stories on that list ever since. At this point, she says, she is about 90% finished with her work in progress, and realizes now that the majority of the snapshots of her life she wrote about were actually centered around her mom.
The first chapter she read from, “A Life in Beverages” tracked her mom’s life and moods, as Amy grew up and learned to recognize what each drink meant to her mother. She lists ice tea, soda, water, alcohol, etc. and how each drink either revealed to Amy how her mother was feeling or what mood she was in, from when she was pretty young, up to when her mother was getting more and more sick. Amy’s stories actually started from when she was in grade school all the way up to when her son started 9th grade, some cute and funny, while others more serious and dark, however all were honest and real. While the stories were definitely nonfiction chapter excerpts, they were also poetic and rhythmic in the way she wrote and read each piece.
Through the stories, Agigian goes into her life growing up in detail, as she developed from a mischievous young student who had a heart arrhythmia, to having a lesbian mom and coming out to her friend about it, to being in summer camp and functioning while having a sick mom. All these stories illustrate how Amy has developed into a strong advocate for women, and how through all the different experiences she had growing up with her mother, shaped her into becoming the person she is. While Amy is finishing her stories that will become the finishing pieces to The First House, I’ll be patiently waiting for that email alert.
By Shelby Stubbs
On Friday, April 22nd Suffolk University will partner with GrubStreet to hold a Story Slam. The Slam will begin at 7 pm in the Modern Theater on Washington St. and will feature 5 storytellers from the GrubStreet writers and 5 students from Suffolk as storytellers.
I sat down with one of the Suffolk storytellers to talk about the upcoming slam.
Janaye Kerr is a Freshman from Suffolk University from Jamaica.
She told me that she “has always been interested in people that go up and do spoken word and has always wanted to try but she has been too quiet and shy to try.” Since this event is being put on by our class Janaye thought that it would be the perfect opportunity “to get acquainted with the mic.”
Even though she is looking forward to it, Janaye is extremely nervous to get up on stage on April 22nd. “But at the end of the day I know it is going to be a really welcoming environment and I am excited to do it,” Janaye said after exclaiming how scared she was. We have learned that the literary world is very supportive of one another, so I know that Janaye will be received with incredible support when she goes up on stage.
I asked Janaye if she knew what story she was going to tell or where she would take it. Since the theme of the slam is “Where Am I From” Janaye will be starting in Jamaica, her birthplace, however, “it’s not exactly [going to be] about the place.” It’ll be about her family and how all of that was the beginning of who she is now.
Janaye told me that Nora Dooley is the one who really made it possible for her to do this. Ms. Dooley is an author, storyteller, and Cofounder of Massmouth, a company that puts on story slams. Talking to Nora and hearing about her experience storytelling, Janaye knew that she wanted to participate in this slam.
Since the slam will be a competition between Suffolk and GrubStreet I asked Janaye how she thought our students were going to do against the “professionals.” Since Suffolk has such a diverse student body with many talents, our students should hold their own. I believe that the Suffolk stories will be rawer than the pros, making them more emotional and definitely easier to connect with for our classmates.
Janaye is ready and exciting to be performing at her first ever story slam on April 22nd. Come to the Modern Theater at 7 pm to hear her story. Personally, I am so excited to hear Janaye speak and to learn about where she is from and how she got to where she is today!
Cultural districts are essential to building communities for people who share similar passions. According to the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a cultural district is “a compact, walkable area of a community with a concentration of cultural facilities, activities, and assets.” Literature is just one of such cultures. For example, The Boston Literary District states that Boston is the first city in the country to dedicate an entire district to literature. The website further explains that the location of the Boston Literary District is from Copley Square to Downtown Boston. Suffolk University is proud to be part of this district with the Rosalie Stahl Center at the Mildred F. Sawyer Library. It would behoove any Suffolk student to familiarize themselves with the Rosalie Stahl Center, because getting to know University/Local libraries is one aspect of being a literary citizen. In addition to the Salamander literary journal, the Rosalie Stahl Center is home to the Clark Collection of African American Literature, according to the Boston Literary District.
The Boston Literary District hosts a number of wonderful events. One event that Suffolk is particularly excited about is the “Where I am From” Story Slam happening on Friday, April 22nd. Suffolk will be alongside GrubStreet writers sharing their origins. Admission is free for The Grub Street and Suffolk community. For readers who aren’t associated those two organizations, tickets are $10 for regular admissions and $5 for students. This event is highly recommended. These stories are from true and personal experiences, and for anyone to do so in front of an audience is nothing short of valiant and amazing.
Even though that event is over a week and a half away, there are other events to attend in the meantime for those eager to be a literary citizen. There will be two events as early as tomorrow, April 13th. From 6 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. the Records Manager for the Boston Police Department, Margaret R. Sullivan, will “draw on documents available online to review specific cases and discuss her efforts to use city employment records to flesh out the later lives of the 1,170 Boston police officers who went out on strike in 1919,” says the Boston Literary District.
The other event is a Tribute to C.D. Wright, which will take place from 7 p.m. – 8 p.m. During this time attendees will listen to live readings of Wright’s work. An award winning poet, Wright received the National Book Critics Circle Award for One With Others, says the Poetry Foundation. The Boston Literary District also adds that Wright was chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and received the MacArthur Fellowship Award.
Besides immersing yourself in literary events, the best part of the two aforementioned activities is that they are free. You read that right, folks. Becoming a literary citizen in your community is a rewarding experience that is completely affordable. Aside from the story slam, the Boston Literary District has a number of other events that are completely free.
In addition to attending these events there are a number of other’s way to get involved in Boston’s Literary District. Aspiring authors, or anyone who is passionate about literature, are all potential candidates . Remember that reading and writing are both important parts of being a literary citizen, but becoming actively involved in literary events is also extremely important. Finding other people who are passionate about literature will expose literary citizens to new authors, presses, and literary journals. Reading from a variety of genres and cultures will also help literary citizens broaden their horizons, but most importantly, it will build friendships and communities.
Class of 2018
The excitement was obvious in the small basement of Brookline Booksmith. In several small rows of two or three or five chairs, the people were talking intently before the readings began. The Breakwater Reading Series features works of MFA candidates at universities and colleges all around Boston. Students hail from Boston University, Emerson College, and University of Massachusetts- Boston, although the audience ranges from children to the elderly. Readings are held at 7pm every third Friday of the month at Brookline Booksmith.
The first reader of the night was A.J. Odasso from Boston University. She has been featured in a number of publications as well as several nominations for awards such as the 2010 London New Poetry Award and the 2011 Forward Prize to name some. Odasso read two older poems as well as four new ones, two of which had three parts. With a more serious tone, this young poet set the expectations high for those to come next.
Fulfilling these expectations was the next author, Juliana Kruis as she read from her memoir Good Pity. The Emerson student told part of the story of her childhood, her mothers gambling addiction and her fathers abuse and forced absence as he was in the air force, from the perspective of her as a child. Kruis captured the room by allowing her work to speak for itself with striking lines like when her mother told her “I just want to lay here and die”, and the nostalgia seemed filled with anger over the lost childhood.
Lightening the mood of the room, Dean Shaban delivered an opening poem by Shel Silverstein and quotes from Mitch Hedberg. Shaban read seven of his own poems, one of which was a found poem, a poem that is created by combining the words of others into something new. Shaban also discussed his love for children’s poetry and books but reading two chapters from the children’s book he is writing. Shaban was able to keep the room laughing and thoroughly enjoying work meant for children, a task not everyone is able to accomplish.
Following Shaban was Ryan Kim, a MFA candidate from UMass Boston. Kim was able to create an environment in which the audience laughed, related, pitied, and hung onto his words as he read his story Unsticking. The story told his adventures with his girlfriend, Mary, and how it becomes more and more difficult to leave someone the longer you are together, despite any betrayals. Kim was able to make us burst out laughing with lines like “that is so middle class”, a direct quote from a girl he was trying to seduce. In the next paragraph Kim was able to make the audience audibly call out “aw” as he discussed the struggles of long term relationships.
The final reader of the night was Lori Zimmerman also an MFA candidate at UMass Boston. Zimmerman read two series of poems. The first consisted of four pomes describing bad homes, the most relatable of which was when she described the bed. Her second series of two poems was apart of her thesis. Zimmerman was able to continue the humor and the seriousness of the previous authors.
As the readings finished, all those present were invited to drinks down the street, however not being 21 quite yet, I opted to explore the independent bookstore. I must admit I have fallen in love with Brookline Booksmith. The twinkle lights hanging from the ceiling, the wide collection of books, and the sliding ladders on the walls, created an amazing environment. The wide range of books and merchandise offered, and the amazing pieces of poetry and prose read ensured my return for the next Breakwater event on March 25th.
Find out more about Breakwater’s upcoming evens by liking their Facebook page or visiting their website.
By Heather Marshall