All posts filed under: Articles, Ideas & Discoveries

featuring recent research, events, and discoveries at the Woodberry Poetry Room

COLLABORATIVE POEM PROJECT: A Living Anthology

In June 2020, during the early months of social-distancing, the Poetry Room sought to counteract the isolation and to generate creative engagement by inviting local poets to participate in a collaborative poem project, called “Boston Renaissance.” Over 75 poets responded from Boston (and beyond), agreeing to be randomly paired with a poetry pen-pal. Once introduced, we left the rest up to them…. This Fall, we reached out to see what had come of our experiment. Several poets responded with enthusiastic accounts of their experiences in communing with other aesthetics, rhythms, languages, histories, modes and mindsets. Some undertook erasures, some translations, some the surrealist form of the exquisite corpse. We have published some wonderful examples here, and (to honor the diversity of each vision) we have retained the original layout and font of each collaborative poem. José (Jodie) Edmundo Reyes and I (Ros Zimmerman) have found it to be a meaningful, generative exchange, regardless of outcome or intention.  We did not know one another before this exchange began, nor did we know where or how our …

FESTSCHRIFT FOR FANNY HOWE: On the Occasion of Her 80th Birthday

If you caught a glimpse of Fanny Howe’s calendar for Thursday, October 15th, 2020, you’d find the simple word: “B-O-R-N.” It’s as though the word were not simply a rote noun (“birthday”) but an urgent verb, a continuous commandment. “I seem to be a Verb,” as fellow New Englander Buckminster Fuller famously observed. And, in truth, it’s hard to imagine anyone more born than Fanny Howe, more wholly emerged, more naked, or a poet whose multi-dimensional knowledge and hard-earned experience have been so cloaked in humility and accompanied by such impish good humor, searing insight, and unfailing generosity. Over the course of the last eight decades Fanny has only continued to grow, to be born, to “accumulate the human….” As her 80th birthday approached, and the pandemic didn’t relent, I decided to reach out to a few friends from different parts of her life to see if they might contribute some words and photos by way of a little Festschrift. But please don’t let this limit the festivities: I encourage you to share your own fanfare …

Collage of Howe and Newspaper

(HOWE)VER: Some Thoughts on Mark DeWolfe Howe

Mark DeWolfe Howe (1906-1967)—father of poets Fanny Howe and Susan Howe and the artist Helen Howe Braider—was a veteran of World War II, a renowned Harvard Law professor, a pioneering biographer of Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, an informal advisor to JFK (helping to coin the phrase, “The New Frontier”), a vigorous activist against HUAC, and a dedicated lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Steadfast in his efforts “to bring to fruition the rights granted by the 13th and 14th Amendments,” Howe helped his students establish the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Review, founded the Lawyers’ Constitutional Defense Committee, and devoted his final year of life to the desegregation of the Boston school system. On the night he died, he had just returned from hours of political organizing in Roxbury, Massachusetts. As a father, Howe encouraged his daughter Fanny to attend rallies with him at a very young age, urged her to go to Malcolm X’s 1964 speech at Harvard (which she still considers “one of the most searing events” of her life), asked her …

HARVARD SQUARE LITERARY MAP: A Walk-in-Progress

The Harvard Square Lit Map is an invitation to explore the literary history of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and to experience “the presence of a plurality of times.” The Lit Map is a collaborative atlas created by Lynn Sayers and Chris Lenney (of Lamont Library), in conjunction with the Woodberry Poetry Room. We also wish to thank the countless poets, scholars, and members of the general public, who contributed immensely to our knowledge of historic venues and creative locales: their names are listed below the map-in-progress. The map represents only a small portion of the total artistic activity in the vicinity and is in no way indicative of the breadth and depth of what has been created here. It is simply “the mooring of starting out,” as John Ashbery would say, a way for you to begin your literary exploration…. In creating this map, we also wish to acknowledge the Massachusett, Pequot, Wampanoag, and other Indigenous peoples, who have long inhabited this land—with their profound histories, cultures, and voices. Please assist us in expanding our understanding of the area by notifying us …

Boston Renaissance

BOSTON RENAISSANCE: A Creative For(u)m

“Ones all speaking together….”—Alice Notley In an effort to foster community at a time of social-distancing, the Woodberry Poetry Room is launching an informal poetry exchange that will randomly pair poets from the Greater Boston area to create collaborative works. This is the first event in our “Boston Renaissance” series, which will also include a collaborative Zoom forum about the literary history—and future—of Boston and the crowd-sourced creation of a series of literary maps (or, so we hope)! How to Participate: Please send us an email at poetryrm@fas.harvard.edu, with your name and preferred contact information & “Boston Renaissance” in the subject header. Registration Deadline: June 1, 2020. How Do We Define “Boston-Area”: We don’t…. ! As you can tell from our Boston Originals series, we include poets from as far afield as Providence and Amherst under this moniker (as well as MFA and grad students who reside here for several years). Perhaps you might say: poets for whom the Boston area is either a dwelling-place or serves as a literary forum and cultural/educational nexus in …

Handing reaching toward Dickinson book

THE LAYING ON OF HANDS: On “Physical Distancing” as an Ethics of the Archive

In these intangible, at times untenable days—the duration of which keeps extending its parenthesis—days in which we’re instructed not to touch, or greet within six feet, in which we’re made increasingly cognizant of what Amichai called “the circumference of the bomb,” or at the very least the consequential perimeter of our being, days of the necessarily distant and of griefs behind glass, days of the digital (though digital has its very root in “hands”), I’ve begun to reflect on what I, as a curator, have most longed to touch, materials I’m privileged to work among but must necessarily refrain from—a kind of “discipline of vicinity.” It’s a strange favor the fingers do by being far, the noli me tangere of an archivist’s career.   But, somewhere in the molecules of Massachusetts what I haven’t handled persists because I—and others—have cared enough not to touch it. ______ Over the past few weeks, removed from the physical archives, I’ve had a chance to reflect on the fact that I have never in my entire time at Houghton …