new england literary news

Poetry is in the air

Former US poet laureate Robert Pinsky taped a jazz and poetry session at the BU Playwrights Theater earlier this month.
Former US poet laureate Robert Pinsky taped a jazz and poetry session at the BU Playwrights Theater earlier this month.

Poetry is in the air

Earlier this month former US poet laureate Robert Pinsky took to the stage in Cambridge with pianist Vijay Iyar in an enthralling performance. Pinsky read his poems — about an oil refinery, a working-class neighborhood, the invention of the saxophone — while Iyar put on a virtuoso performance.

It wasn’t the first time Pinsky has teamed up with a musician and, based on the fun he and Iyar appeared to be having, it won’t be the last.

This week poetry is showing up in some unusual places — among the leader-ati and on the Green Line.


Governor Deval Patrick; former Boston police commissioner Ed Davis; Robin Young, host of NPR’s “Here and Now”; and other luminaries will share a favorite poem about leadership at 7 p.m. Monday at Boston University Theatre on Huntington Avenue.

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Mass Poetry is partnering with the Favorite Poem Project and Courage & Renewal Northeast for this “Evening of Inspired Leadership.” Vertex founder Joshua Boger, Wheelock College president Jackie Jenkins Scott, Pinsky, and Bill Littlefield, host of “Only a Game” on NPR, are also in the lineup.

The suggested minimum donation is $25. Admission is free for high school students. Proceeds will fund Mass Poetry’s programs, including the new Poetry on the T. For the month of April, poems will be posted in the space on Green Line subway cars normally reserved for ads. Each poem also will be printed on a tear-off pad so riders can take a copy with them.

History of the Heathen School

Yale historian John Demos was so fascinated by a piece of local history mentioned over dinner at a friend’s house in Cornwall, Conn., that he wrote a book about it, “The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic” (Knopf). In the early 1800s, a school in Cornwall aimed to “civilize” boys and young men from Hawaii, India, and China, as well as Jews from Europe and Native Americans. The school was viewed as a model experiment until a racist fury was unleashed after two Cherokee students fell in love with and married local girls.

Three locals receive honors

Vermont poet Ellen Bryant Voigt and translator David Hinton were honored this month by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Voigt, a former Vermont poet laureate who lives in Cabot, received the $20,000 Arthur Rense Poetry Prize, given triennially to an exceptional poet. Her latest book is “Headwaters” (Norton), published in 2013.


Hinton, who lives in East Calais, received the $20,000 Thornton Wilder Prize for Translation, given for a significant contribution to the art of literary translation. He is the first person in more than a century to translate the Tao Te Ching and the three other masterworks of Chinese philosophy. His 2012 book “Hunger Mountain: A Field Guide to Mind and Landscape” (Shambala) is a primer on Chinese philosophy as well as chronicle of autumn hikes on the titular mountain.

Boston area writer Laura Van Den Berg, is the winner of Rosenthal Family Foundation Award, a $10,000 prize given to a young writer of considerable literary talent for a work published in 2013. for “The Isle of Youth.”

Coming out

“And the Dark Sacred Night” by Julia Glass (Pantheon)

“Under Magnolia: A Southern Memoir” by Frances Mayes (Crown)

“Love and Treasure” by Ayelet Waldman (Knopf)

Pick of the Week


Phil Wilcox of Tres Gatos in Jamaica Plain recommends: “How It Feels To Be Free: Black Women Entertainers and the Civil Rights Movement” by Ruth Feldstein (Oxford University): “The author’s interest in both entertainment and activism comes through with grace and style. We are invited on the journey of Lena Horne, Miriam Makeba, Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln, Diahann Carroll, and Cicely Tyson from the late 1950s to the mid-’70s as the civil rights movement morphs and changes around them and they struggle and prosper.”

Jan Gardner can be reached at