March 5, 2006

Poets and So Much More

On April 8 and 9 when the sixth annual Boston Poetry Festival is held at the Boston Public Library in Copley Square, it will reflect the vision of one poet, Harris Gardner. And, each week when Somerville Community Access Television airs the program Poet to Poet/Writer to Writer, another poet, Doug Holder, brings the written word to a television audience.

I think of Gardner and Holder as the Johnny Appleseeds of Boston-area poetry, planting a reading series here, a publishing venture there, sprinkling poetry from Amesbury to Warwick, Rhode Island. Most of their efforts are concentrated close to home. Holder co-founded the Somerville News Writers Festival and started the monthly poetry series at Somerville’s Toast Lounge. With his wife, Dianne, he founded Ibbetson Street Press, which publishes books, a magazine, and an online newsletter. He presided for a time over the legendary Stone Soup Poets and is the current host of the Newton Free Library poetry reading series. Gardner originated poetry readings at Border’s at Downtown Crossing and at Forest Hills Cemetery. He has organized benefit readings after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. His biggest project has been the Poetry Festival which, each year, organizes more than 50 poets into a free weekend marathon reading.

Although they are publishers and venue hosts, they consider themselves poets first. Each has amassed a solid list of publishing credits. Gardner is author of the collection “Lest They Become “ and co-author, with Lainie Senechal , of “Chalice of Eros.” Holder’s most recent collection is “Wrestling with my Father.”

I catch up with them at yet another event they started. It is 9 o’clock on Saturday morning and I am in Harvard Square with other early-to-rise poets at what Holder and Gardner call “Bagels and Bards.” Open to all poets, it’s a place to bring new work, share experiences, and schmooze, which, in the basement of Finagle a Bagel , seems about right.

It’s hard for any poet, especially a beginning one, to find an audience, and the city is filled with poets grateful for the audiences these two have helped them find, including at the open mikes their venues often feature.

“I feel I’m in this world to be a catalytic agent,” says Gardner, “ to provide space and opportunity for other poets. I’m a bridge builder--sort of a civil engineer of poetry.”

He’s enjoyed bringing together poets from both the city’s academic and performance communities and is known for venues that combine poets with major reputations and those he calls “emerging.”

“I like the mix of new and established voices,” he says. “I think it encourages beginning poets to push themselves more and bring themselves to the next level.”

Holder agrees.“I like showcasing other poets. I like to bring out a new exciting voice. And I like to make a venue lively, not too formal. The poetry should be solid, but I want to have fun. I want it to be eclectic. I like to encourage people who are engaging to put on a show. Poetry should be a joyous thing.”

They are clearly having fun. I picture puppies or maybe lion cubs as they talk, tumbling over each other’s words, interrupting, finishing each other’s sentences, trading verbal jabs over who’s younger (Holder), who has more hair (Gardner).

Holder says, “If we lost everything else tomorrow we’d still be writing poetry.”

And maybe organizing a reading series.

Ellen Steinbaum can be reached at citytype@globe.com. You can see past City Type columns at www.ellensteinbaum.com.

 
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