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!
My creative writing teacher from high school always said poetry was written to be read aloud. I never really understood what she meant until I attended Melissa Green and Meg Tyler’s poetry reading this past Wednesday night for my Literary Citizenship class.
I’ve always had an interest in poetry since I was a child and my mother would read me Shel Silverstein before bed. This interest soon developed into a love for writing and numerous afternoons spent writing pages of pose both good and bad. Since I already liked the subject, and didn’t want to stress about finding the time to attend a literary event at the end of the semester, this seemed like the perfect time for me to buck up and write a blog post for the class blog. Prior to attending this event I had little to no idea what to expect. I’d never heard of either of these poets and a google search procured few helpful results. I had also never been to a poetry reading before. I had a multitude of questions: What do I wear? Should I snap once they finish reading or was that just a gross cliché? Would I know anyone there? Should I prepare questions to ask? Where even is the poetry center?
Basically I was clueless, but I’ve found that when I have no expectations I usually end up having the best time. With all these thoughts running through my head I donned my best turtleneck, grabbed my notebook and glasses, and made my way up to the poetry center on the second floor of the Sawyer library (located in 73 Tremont).
I found the room easily enough, following another student who looked like the type that would be attending a poetry reading, and settled for a seat in the back. The room was filled with teachers from the English department but a few students were scattered amongst the crowd. There was free coffee in the back which I was endlessly thankful for, having a large amount of homework waiting for me back in my dorm.
The night kicked off with Meg Tyler who read from her collection of poems titled Poor Earth. Each piece was breathtaking in its own right with clear, concise imagery. Her poems had a lot of movement to them and an immense amount of power behind them despite their simplicity. I’m always in awe of the way poets can pull at your heart with the simplest lines. One of her poems, I regretfully forget the name, was about picking up her daughter from school. There was a part where her daughter exits the school and looks around fearfully like she expected her mother to be missing from the crowd but Tyler exclaimed, “I am always there”. A simple line in itself but it reminded me of a story my mom tells about when I was in preschool. I, allegedly, would beg her to wait in the parking lot so she be there on time when I was done. That kind of innocent fear that a mother might not come back is heartbreaking but still resonated heavily with my own life. Tyler in herself was incredibly charming with a soft voice and a slight accent. Her pieces had a melancholy sense to them, even the happy ones.
Up next was Melissa Green who read from her collection Magpiety. Her poems pulled me in from the get go. They were heavy with imagery, language, and embedded meaning but didn’t feel sluggish. The pacing was impeccable and I never lost interest, which I tend to do when pieces get too wordy. Her piece “Phi” was my favorite poem of the whole night specifically due to the lines, “I wish I’d known about the Golden Mean, / that my over brimming heart was a nautilus, / and not alone, and had poured out love everywhere, / for Fibonacci so long ago had made me his, / and I was part of the world, and known, and loved / to the smallest coral moon on my smallest fingernail”. I connected a lot with this piece also, having recently starting school at Suffolk. This year especially I feel like I’ve had to learn a lot of lessons about self-love. One lesson in particular is about how to be alone but not feel lonely which is easier said than done at times. This piece seems to me to focus deeply on self-acceptance and realizing that just because you don’t have the ideal life does not mean you do not lead an important life. Green’s work was so amazing that I ended up buying a copy of her book once the reading had finished.
In addition to the wonderful poetry the one thing that struck me was the amount of love in the room that night. There was an outpouring of support for each other that rivals anything I’ve ever seen. It takes a great deal of bravery to publish pieces, specifically poetry, and an even greater deal to read your work aloud to others you know well. It’s easy to talk about literary citizenship, what it means and how to do your share but I without a doubt witnessed literary citizenship in action that night. There was, as I said before, an immense amount of support produced from the crowd and it was powerful to see.
Attending this reading reminded me why I originally fell in love with poetry. It wasn’t because of the authors’ masterful use of language. It was because poems can do in a few short lines what some authors take a whole book to accomplish. Poets grab your attention from the first words and simple lines like “I am always there” can pull you back to stories that took place years in the past. They’re easy to identify with and can quickly put into words feelings you may not have known you were currently feeling. I’m incredibly happy I ended up attending this literary event and I’m definitely looking forward to attend several more!
Check out Meg Tyler’s collection here!
Check out Melissa Green’s collection here!
“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.
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