One Community – 3,000 Miles Away

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.

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Grolier Poetry Book Shop – Cambridge, MA

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.

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Grolier Poetry Book Shop

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

 

A Work in Progress…

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

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Amy Agigian, reading from her book in progress, The First House

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.amyagigian

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

Breakwater Reading Series

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 IMG_8434.JPGaudience 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.

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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

Hi Peter

“Hi, I’m Peter and I’m an addict.” Doctor Peter Grinspoon, Harvard Grad, physician, and author of “Free Refills: A Doctor Confronts His Addiction” introduced himself to his audience at Thursday, February 18, 2016’s book reading hosted by the Boston Public Library.

Walking into the library I approached an older, English librarian and asked about the whereabouts of the book reading. She gave me instructions and I was on my way. I walked through a small corridor and past the open atrium area and proceeded into the next building. Entering the first door to my right, per the instructions of the librarian, I entered a warm and inviting room. Sky-high ceilings with large, simple chandeliers lighting the length of the room created an open and comfortable setting. I chose a seat and waited for the event to begin. People were filing in and easily filled a majority of the room. I heard murmurs and discussion throughout the room and observed as Dr. Grinspoon and members of his family spoke with friends and fans alike until 6:00 when the event was to begin.IMG_0264

At 6:00 all attendees were seated. Grinspoon’s family, wife and children included, were front and center showing immense support for their accomplished and beloved family member. Dr. Grinspoon introduced himself as an addict, a still admittedly difficult statement to make after 9 years clean, although he has been struggling with his opiate addiction for 15 years.

The readings came in three parts and began with the introduction to how Grinspoon had to face his addiction head on. He was not given much choice to get clean, one day having been surprisingly greeted by a Boston Police officer and a DEA agent in his office. Grinspoon was facing three felony counts of writing fraudulent prescriptions. After reading and giving the audience a taste of his gripping narrative chronicling the events that occurred once being caught, Grinspoon started discussing the opiate epidemic.

The opiate epidemic has lead to the heroin epidemic that is sweeping the nation. What was once thought to be an inner city problem has made its way into middle class and upper middle class areas and regions. Doctors nationwide are encouraged by pharmaceutical companies to prescribe opiates to patients. The euphoric effects of these drugs is a feeling that many people end up attempting to chase. Opiates change to the cheaper drug heroin and has evolved these addictions to an epidemic of drug use and overdosing. Overdosing causes an average of 100 deaths per day in America and kills more people than car crashes. Shocking statistics such as the fact that 9% of the general population have serious addictions to drugs and alcohol is unfortunate to think about, however an astonishing fact is that 15% of physicians suffer from addictions with drugs and alcohol. The ease of access and unlimited refills that physicians can grant themselves to opiates combined with the stress of a job like this greatly increases their susceptibility to addiction. Grinspoon provides a call to action and asks how we can fix this epidemic. He noted three main components that worked to create this epidemic.

  • The way pharmaceutical companies advertise their products. Pharmaceutical companies work for profits and often minimize the addictive components to opiate use.
  • Doctors mindlessly went along with this. They acted as sheep and were complacent in prescribing these drugs to patients.
  • The “War on Drugs” treats addicts as criminals rather than as people who have developed legitimate problems.
    • There is no other disease in the world where they punish you instead of treating you.

In the second passage that Grinspoon read from, he details his struggle with denial. Even in his Q&A session as part of one of his responses, Grinspoon made the age old, however classic “dad joke” that “Denial is not just a river in Egypt.” At the beginning of his addiction, he believed he had nothing in common with the addict patients that he was treating who came in due to drug and alcohol related issues. Dissociating from these people made it that much more difficult to eventually get the help that he needed.

The discussion following the reading of this passage touched upon the pitfalls of helping physicians who develop addictions such as the one that Dr. Grinspoon lives with. Doctors work tirelessly for years and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on their educations. The fear of losing their licenses is a massive deterrent for those with addictions to reach out for help. Grinspoon makes several good points regarding this, stating that there should be less punitive responses in the future to help get these doctors into the recovery programs that they so desperately need. These doctors have a lot to lose and once they are in the recovery process their is an astonishing 75-80% recovery rate. The issue here is getting them to the help that they need.

Grinspoon’s third passage introduced his 90 days in rehab. Although putting up a strong fight against it, his only other option was to face his charges. So, a disheveled Dr. Grinspoon arrived at a rehab facility in Virginia, scruffy in appearance and an inside-out shirt seemed to sum up his state upon arrival.  He first noted seeing fellow patients outside smoking and described them as resembling a “gang of naughty teenagers.” This, a seemingly stark difference to the fellow patients he described as “inmates” that he encountered at the first rehabilitation facility he went to. Grinspoon was searched upon arrival, starting with a search of himself, then his bag, then his car which was parked outside. After a thorough search, a stash of over-the-counter medications were found in his trunk. The nurse who found them gave him a look I’m sure she has doled out thousands of times. Grinspoon was put through facing the stigma that addicts and physicians that fell off of their pedestals face.

Concluding his discussions, Dr. Grinspoon made a few statements that he has learned. He left the audience with these takeaways:

  • Doctors in recovery tend to be excellent doctors.
  • Opiate addiction is not a death sentence. With a good support system recovery can be made possible.
  • We have to make treatment less punitive so people can get the help they actually need to recover.
  • In order to work on resolving this epidemic, an important step will be de-stigmatizing the disease of addiction.

This book reading was a pleasure to attend and was informational. Having the fist hand perspective of a physician who is a recovering addict, this novel effectively tells a story that is all too often hidden or shoved into a corner as the taboo and stigma casts a shadow over the issue. This novel instills insight into its readers and acts as a vehicle in which change may be affected and works to tear down the stigmas associated with addiction through the telling of one doctor’s story.

By Alexis Maltes

A Void is Unavoidable

By: Heba Munir

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On Wednesday February Third at 7 PM I had the pleasure of witnessing a poetry reading done by Nick Flynn, author of three memoirs including Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, The Ticking Is the Bomb, and The Reenactments, and alongside these memoirs he has had several published books. Fred Marchant proceeded on stage to introduce this exquisite poet, and unfortunately what was running through my mind was that I hoped that this reading would not run late. By the end of the night I was hoping that the recitation of poetry would never end.

Flynn is influential in his presence alone. On stage a middle-aged, tall Caucasian man with a five o’clock shadow, and unkempt hair casually walked on stage after one of his poems was recited as a backdrop to an ominous film of a helicopter in the air. Repeating within my membrane as he proceeded on stage was a stanza from his poem that lamented about how, “This house you grew out of, you grew up inside it”. It was powerful, and you could hear the disappointment in his voice as he uttered those words. He had a way of transferring the suffering that he went through, and letting it leak throughout the listener’s mind. The aura he gave off left the listener pondering what exactly did this poor poet go through.

Dread overwhelmed me as Flynn transported me to a distant moment within his memory bank. That’s the beauty of his poetry: apprehension, fear, angst, uneasiness, and anxiety inclined me to reflect on my own life as he poured out his own. This overall experience was life changing. His voice was not monotonous; however, it was empty if that makes any sense. This  video will help you, as the reader, grasp what I mean when I discuss his overall presentation as he recites. If a voice can be empty, than that was his voice. More probable than not Flynn himself could attest to the fact that his tone while performing was not purposeful, but just the way he sounds. The way he presented conveyed a message beyond a passage an individual could find in a textbook. He had a way of both soothing the audience whilst simultaneously inclining them to think and reflect constantly. Flynn simply had a way with words, and his crude yet dry humor added a lot to his performance.

His performance itself was an art. He used a range of media on collaborations with diverse artists including photographers such as Misha Grifter, painters, and videographers to both keep the audience engaged and set a certain mood to his pieces of poetry. The grim tone he sets is comparable to Tim Burton, and Burton’s artistry as a director. Certain patterns that one caught through his poetry was this listing of words which emphasized the pathos within the respected piece, but the listing was not as simple as it seems. For the listener the lists seemed both jumbled, and as if the emotions that he was going through did not fully make sense. At the end of the day it seems as if through his suffering, some of his questions were still left unanswered. That is what I took away from this poetry reading. At the end of the day one simply needs to find acceptance in the reality that some voids will be left as voids, and some questions will be left unanswered.

Comment below on how experiences have influenced you!

To learn more information about Flynn’s books, upcoming events, and interviews go to Nick Flynn’s official website:

nickflynn.org 

Nick Flynn Visits Suffolk University on Feb. 3

Please join Suffolk University on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2016 in welcoming acclaimed author Nick Flynn for two literary events.

From 3:30-5 p.m. in the Suffolk University Poetry Center (73 Tremont Street, Sawyer Library, 3rd Floor, entrance around the corner on Tremont Place), Flynn will read from and discuss his three volumes of memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, The Ticking is the Bomb, and The Reenactments.

Nick Flynn Memoir talk

Then, at 7 p.m., Flynn will read from his poetry, particularly his new collection, My Feelings. This reading will be in Suffolk’s C. Walsh Theatre, 55 Temple Street.

Nick Flynn's Poetry Reading

These events are free and open to the public, and are made possible by the Day One Fund of the Suffolk University Poetry Project, and with the support of the university’s English Department and Creative Writing Program.

Check out this conversation between writer Sari Botton and Nick Flynn in The Rumpus.

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Helen Klein Ross “What Was Mine”

Morgan Robb

Helen Klein Ross’ most recent novel, What Was Mine, is a compelling, suspenseful novel that has no secrets and is told from the point of view of 15 different characters. The story is about a woman named Lucy who had faced infertility who ends up taking a baby from an IKEA store. She raises this baby for 21 years, and it is at that point that the girl finds out her true identity and confronts Lucy and goes off to find her birth mother. This summary caught my interest immediately and made me eager to go to see Helen Klein Ross.

The discussion at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA. was between Claire Messud, a New York Times bestselling author, and of course Helen Klein Ross. Helen started off by talking about how she learned to write and gave some lessons that I think can be helpful to all writers.

Her first words were, “A lot about writing I learned from reading.” To me this makes sense because reading is a way of teaching, we can see how others do things to decide how we are or are not going to do something. She also said that she never really understood how many people go into writing a novel and now appreciates that, because all of the people that helped her with the book offered different views and judgments. Helen said the biggest lesson she learned through telling a story was to “listen to the character.” Advice I’m sure any fictional or even non-fictional writer should take.

This story is unique in the sense that it is not a mystery, we know that Lucy took the baby so there is no surprise, like life the only question is how people will react. As Claire pointed out the novel is like life where there is no clear cut villain and hero. Lucy is not a bad person and Marilyn, the baby’s mother, is not a saint. Helen points out that through the story and by seeing the events unfold slowly from Lucy’s eyes, we as readers sympathize with her, almost forgetting that what she did was completely twisted. Helen points out that the “act was one of craziness, but its believable, and the character was not crazy.”

When asked how she came up with the idea for the novel from originally a short story, Helen explained that she had to “build a story world…where this was believable.” So she set it in 1990, before technology, and told the story from multiple points of view, “where the reader could justifiably sympathize” with each character. And to make the story relatable, and understandable she shows the psychological movement of the characters throughout the story.

Helen firmly believes that “almost all of us are capable of almost anything” and she wanted to show that through Lucy. However, she also believes that as humans, we are strong enough to overcome even the most tragic thing and can move on with our lives, which is how she metaphorically granted Marilyn “Grace” as described by Claire. A belief that I am not sure I follow, because as a daughter who is so close to my own mother, I doubt that any sane, loving mother would be able to fully recover from losing a child.

Despite that disagreement, I did find Helen to be very real and in-tune to real life, which is why this novel should be a success and I certainly learned a lot from her. She believes that we “only have one story to tell,” and she believes her’s is motherhood, and feels accomplished with this novel. She encouraged to “write what you know” because fiction is a conduit of truth, and if we do that, then we can all be successful.image1